What Triggers Asthma?

Exhausted female runner suffering angina pectoris

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway. The causes of this condition are uncertain and appear to vary from person to person, but the presentation of asthma appears to be consistent. When an asthmatic person is exposed to an element that triggers a flare up of his/her asthma, that person’s airways become inflamed, constricted, and filled with congesting mucus. This is known as an asthma attack, which may lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Medications, most often in the form on inhalers, are available to patients suffering asthma attacks, but the most effective way to deal with asthma attacks is to avoid triggers.

Asthma may be triggered by different elements in different people. Common asthma triggers include:

  • Allergens – Asthma is commonly associated with allergies. Whether the patient suffers allergies to food, pet dander, dust mites, or seasonal plants, exposure to an individual’s allergen may trigger an asthma attack.

  • Exercise – Roughly 80% of asthma sufferers experience a narrowing of the airways while engaging in strenuous exercise. Exercise-induced asthma often strikes within the first five to 15 minutes of an aerobic workout, but subsides within about 30 to 60 minutes. As many as half of patients with exercise-induced asthma suffer a second attack six to ten hours following the workout. Beginning exercise with a gentle warm-up may prevent an asthma attack.

  • Heartburn – Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a severe form of chronic heartburn. With GERD, stomach acids back up, moving from the stomach up into the esophagus, or the “food tube.” If the stomach acid reaches the throat, the patient may accidentally aspirate, inhaling the acid into his/her airways. This irritation may trigger an asthma attack.

  • Smoking – Smoking is tremendously harmful to the human body, and the respiratory system often feels the effects most strongly. Non-smokers who are exposed to tobacco smoke may experience an asthma attack. Smokers with asthma may not experience an asthma attack every time they light up, but the chemicals in cigarettes do nothing to help the asthma. Every cigarette smoked does further damage to the respiratory system. Quitting may be the best thing a smoker can do to help his/her asthma symptoms.

  • Weather – Drastic changes in temperature or humidity may trigger asthma attacks.

  • Strong Emotional Reactions – Strong emotions are known to be capable of causing physical reactions. Hard crying, laughing, or yelling may trigger an asthma attack, as may anxiety, stress, or fear.


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