What Are Asthma Triggers?
One way to help manage your child's asthma is to avoid asthma triggers. These are things that are harmless to most people, but can cause flare-ups in kids with asthma.
Common asthma triggers include:
- allergens like pollen, mold, and pet dander
- dirty air (irritants or pollutants)
- respiratory infections, like colds or the flu
- weather conditions
- gastroesophageal reflux (GER)
Other, less common triggers include laughing, crying, and use of some medicines.
Kids can't avoid all triggers all the time. But watching carefully to learn what those triggers are and then helping your child avoid them can keep asthma symptoms under control.
What Are My Child's Asthma Triggers?
Triggers are different for each child. Some might cause asthma symptoms only at particular times of the year. Others might stop being a trigger as a child gets older and "outgrows" asthma.
You'll work with your doctor to find your child's triggers. The doctor may suggest keeping an asthma diary to record your child's symptoms, medicines, and peak flow readings. You can also write down when and where symptoms happened to help you identify possible triggers.
If your doctor thinks allergens are triggers, your child might need an allergy skin test.
How Can We Avoid Asthma Triggers?
If Allergens Are a Trigger
Allergens are one of the most common asthma triggers. They include:
- animal dander (tiny flakes of dead skin), saliva (spit), or urine (pee) and feathers
- dust mites
It's impossible to avoid all allergens, but you can minimize them in your home. Focus on the rooms where your child sleeps and plays:
- Keep these areas as clean and dust-free as possible. Vacuum and dust weekly, eliminate clutter, get rid of unneeded stuffed animals and wash other stuffed animals in hot water regularly.
- Wash sheets weekly in hot water and get rid of feather pillows and comforters.
- Use hypoallergenic covers for the mattress, box spring, and pillows.
- Remove rugs and carpeting wherever possible.
- Clean curtains (which should be washable) often.
- Make sure damp areas like bathrooms, basements, and laundry rooms are cleaned often and properly ventilated to prevent mold and mildew. Run dehumidifiers in damp areas.
- Don't use humidifiers.
- Check your local mold and pollen count readings and plan indoor activities for windy days, which can lead to high counts.
- Use bait traps or professional extermination to rid your home of cockroaches. Keep your kitchen clean and your house free of stacks of paper.
If Irritants (Pollutants) Are a Trigger
Irritants can affect anyone — even someone who doesn't have asthma. They're not usually a serious problem, but for kids with asthma, they can lead to swollen airways and flare-ups.
Common irritants include:
- aerosol sprays
- cleaning products
- wood and tobacco smoke
- paint or gas fumes
- air pollution
Here are some ways to reduce household irritants:
- If a product triggers your child's asthma, switch to an unscented or non-aerosol version of it.
- Don't have wood fires in your home.
- Keep your child away from areas where painting or carpentry work is being done.
- If you cook on a gas stove, make sure your kitchen is well ventilated — to the outside, if possible.
- Forbid smoking in your home and car, and make sure your child avoids smoky environments (like restaurants or parties).
- Consider buying an air cleaner for your home or run the air conditioning year-round (clean the filter regularly). Also check air quality reports. On days when the quality is especially bad, keep your child indoors with the air conditioning on.
Respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu, can be hard to avoid. For kids with asthma, breathing problems triggered by colds can last days or even weeks after the cold has gone away.
Teach everyone in your family the importance of hand washing. Kids 6 months and older should get the annual flu vaccine. This is especially important for kids with asthma, who are at greater risk for health problems if they get the flu.
If Extreme Weather Is a Trigger
Some weather conditions can trigger asthma flare-ups, including:
- windy conditions (which may stir up pollens and molds)
- heavy rain (which can make trees and grasses produce more pollen)
- extreme cold or heat
- humidity or very dry air
If weather conditions are a trigger, keep an eye on the forecast and limit your child's time outdoors on problem days. If cold weather is a trigger, cover your child's nose and mouth with a scarf. If hot, humid weather is a problem, keep your child in an air-conditioned environment.
In some cases, your child's medicine dose may need to be increased.
If Exercise Is a Trigger
Exercise might be the only trigger for some kids with asthma. Along with allergens, this is one of the more common triggers. It can be a particular problem in someone whose asthma isn't well managed. But this is one trigger that your child should not avoid because exercise is important for overall health.
Don't discourage being active or playing sports. Instead, talk with your doctor about what your child should do before, during, and after exercise. This may include taking medicine before working out or playing a sport.
If Reflux Is a Trigger
Gastroesophageal reflux is when the contents of the stomach flow backward into the esophagus. Some kids also inhale these contents into the lungs, which can harm airways and make asthma worse.
If reflux is a trigger, treating it can help your child's asthma symptoms.
Reviewed by: Aledie Amariah Navas Nazario, MD
Date reviewed: August 2018