When a person has asthma, certain factors will cause their symptoms to become worse. These factors are called ‘triggers’. Triggers vary from person to person and therefore require personalised management plans. This plan could help identify what your particular triggers are, how to avoid them and what to do if you come into contact with a trigger.

Common Triggers

Although your triggers may vary significantly from the next person, there are common asthma triggers. These include:

  • Colds and flu
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Exercise
  • Inhaled allergens (e.g. pollens, moulds, animal dander and dust mites)
  • Environmental factors (e.g. dust, pollution, wood smoke, bush fires)
  • Changes in temperature and weather
  • Certain medications (e.g. aspirin)
  • Chemicals and strong smells (e.g. perfumes, cleaning products)
  • Emotional factors (e.g. laughter, stress)
  • Some foods and food preservatives, flavourings and colourings (uncommon)

If you suffer from asthma, you should work with your doctor to work out what factors trigger your symptoms. Triggers such as exercise, certain medications and food can be more readily managed than others. This can be done by discussing alternatives and solutions with your doctor. An example of this is working out the level of exercise you can manage without causing yourself harm.

Although some triggers can be more easily managed by talking to your doctor, others such as colds and flus, inhaled allergens, cigarette smoke and environmental factors and can be more difficult.

Colds and flu

Colds and flus are part of life and are very difficult to avoid at times. If you have a respiratory condition such as asthma, you should consider getting vaccinated. Although vaccinations won’t protect you against all sicknesses, they can protect you against influenza-pneumonia. If you have asthma, a sickness such as influenza-pneumonia can be quite severe. To avoid colds and flus you can continue to practice everyday things such as: washing your hands regularly during cold and flu seasons, avoiding people who are showing cold and flu symptoms, eating a healthy vitamin enriched diet and getting enough sleep.

Inhaled Allergens

Allergens such as moulds, animal fur and dust mites can be avoided by ensuring these things are regularly cleaned out of the home. To avoid dust mites, you can purchase specially designed dust proof bedding and hypoallergenic pillows that reduce dust mite exposure. Alternately, you should wash bedding in hot water regularly to limit dust and create a barrier between yourself and the dust mites. Air filters / purifiers can also help reduce the amount of allergens present in the home. Although these systems can remove most of the allergens, they don’t guarantee that all particles will be removed. This means that those who are particularly sensitive to these particles may still suffer from some asthma symptoms.

Cigarette smoke

Cigarette smoke reduces the effect of your asthma medication and increases your risk of a severe asthma attack. If you live in the city or work in an environment where people smoke, it can be hard to avoid cigarette smoke. There are, however, some things you can do to reduce your exposure to cigarette smoke. If your colleagues smoke you should inform them that the smoke from the cigarette can cause you to have an asthma attack. You should also actively avoid situations where people smoke near you and places where people take smoke breaks. When you are walking in the street, it is also a good idea to be aware of smokers and avoid them.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors can be very difficult to avoid. The easiest way to avoid these triggers is to simply know your town or city and avoid places where fumes and pollution are prevalent. Industrial areas, panel beaters and factories can all cause asthma attacks. If you live in an area with high pollution, you should notify your doctor so they can increase your medication if necessary to help counteract this trigger. You should also avoid heavy exercise in areas with high pollution levels and opt for somewhere with cleaner air.

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Have an Asthma Action Plan in Place

Even if you actively avoid your asthma triggers, sometimes you will come into contact with them regardless. Having an Asthma Action Plan will help you respond effectively if you come into contact with a trigger. An Asthma Action Plan is a written set of instructions that allows you to manage your asthma as effectively as possible. This plan will usually include the following:

  • The medication you need to take and instructions on when to take it
  • What triggers your asthma
  • How to tell if your asthma is getting worse
  • What to do if your symptoms get worse
  • What to do if you have an asthma attack

If you have asthma you should make yourself well aware of what to do when you experience symptoms so that you can act immediately and effectively. If you have not  yet established an asthma plan with the help medical professional, you can follow the National Asthma Council Australia educational resource: First Aid for Asthma.

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