National Consumers League

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Live well with asthma: Know your triggers

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May is Asthma Awareness MonthMay is Asthma Awareness Month! Did you know that many asthma patients have found that making just one lifestyle change helps improve their symptoms. Know your triggers and avoid them.

Things that bring on asthma or make it worse are called your triggers. It is important for you to know your own asthma triggers. They are different for everyone.

Here’s a list of some of the most common allergens (which cause an allergic reaction), irritants (which irritate your body), and other things that can bring on asthma symptoms. Your personal list may include some of these or even additional ones that you and your health care provider have identified.

Allergens

  • Dander (from the skin, hair, or feathers of animals)
  • Dust mites (insects too small to see found in house dust)
  • Cockroaches
  • Pollen from trees, grass, and flowers
  • Mold, both indoor and outdoor

Irritants

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Cold or dry air
  • Sudden changes in the weather
  • Strong odors (paint, chemicals, solvents)
  • Scented products (perfume, lotions, candles)
  • Strong emotional expression (including crying or laughing hard) and stress

Others

  • Common colds and other viral infections of the ear, nose and throat
  • Other infections, such as upper respiratory infections
  • Medicines, such as aspirin or beta-blockers
  • Sulfites in food or beverages (dried fruit, wine)
  • Diseases that cause heartburn can worsen asthma symptoms, especially at night.

Control and avoid your triggers

Using your asthma medicine regularly and the right way is a must for managing your asthma. It’s just as important to know what your triggers are and avoid them. Many people with asthma find that even making just one lifestyle change, like not hanging out with people who smoke or getting rid of family pets, has improved their asthma.

The following steps may help you reduce or get rid of the most common allergens and irritants that trigger asthma flare-ups.

Keep your home dust-free.

  • In at least the bedroom, get rid of heavy drapes, upholstered furniture, wool rugs, rug pads, stuffed animals and anything with feathers.
  • Use an airtight, allergy-proof plastic cover on all mattresses and pillows.
  • Use cotton or synthetic blankets, not quilts or comforters.
  • Use foam or Dacron (polyester fiber) pillows, not pillows filled with feathers.
  • Wash all bedding in hot water (150 degrees) every week.
  • Avoid using ceiling fans, and if you do use them, make sure you clean off dust from the hard-to-reach top side.
  • Cover air vents with glass fiber or cheesecloth filters.
  • Consider using a HEPA filter to control airborne allergens.

Keep your home bug-free.

  • Control cockroaches with insect sprays and roach traps, as cockroach allergens are a very common asthma and allergy trigger. Remember to wear a mask while spraying chemicals to avoid breathing in irritating fumes.

Keep your home pet-free (if you can).

  • Sometimes emotional attachments make it difficult to get rid of a family pet. If they have to live inside your house, keep them out of the bedroom where asthmatic family members sleep.
  • Choose a pet without fur or feathers (such as fish).

Keep your home mold-free.

  • Get rid of molds that are often found in basements, bathrooms, attics, closets, and water-damaged areas of the house.  If you find any, after removing it, make it less likely that it will return by taking out carpeting, wallpaper, or paneling in these areas.  Don’t use vaporizers or humidifiers in places that contain (or used to contain) mold.

Keep your home breathe-friendly.

  • Keep indoor humidity low (less than 50 percent), since dust mites and mold increase in high humidity.
  • Don’t smoke! And don’t let others smoke in your house.
  • Avoid using strong scents and sprays, such as deodorizers, strong smelling cleaning products, and scented candles.
  • Don't use the self-cleaning feature on your oven.
  • During pollen season, keep windows closed in the car and home to avoid exposure (especially on windy days).
  • Stay indoors when pollen counts are highest - during the middle of the day and afternoon.
  • Watch the weather report and listen for air quality news. Avoid being outside on days when pollution or ozone counts are high.

Outside Your Home

  • Remove wet leaves, cut grass or garden debris.
  • Use non-organic material for mulching and other landscaping.
  • Remove mold from roof shingles or siding.
  • Take your plants outside.
  • Wear a scarf over your mouth and nose in the winter.