Other Asthma Triggers

A host of other things can bring on an asthma attack in susceptible people. These include:

  • Respiratory infections
  • Irritants
  • Industrial fumes and dusts at work
  • Air pollution
  • Exercise
  • Nighttime
  • Weather
  • Emotions
  • Hormonal changes
  • Health problems

Respiratory Infections

Asthma can be made worse by common colds, sinusitis, and influenza (the flu). Viral infections are known triggers of asthma attacks. Antibiotics don’t work against viral infections, but medication to open up the air passages can help.

How-To Information

To prevent asthma episodes triggered by respiratory infections:

  • Ask your doctor for flu and pneumonia shots for yourself and your family.
  • Stay healthy with daily exercise, nourishing foods, and enough sleep.
  • Avoid contact with people who have upper respiratory infections.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

If you notice one of the following changes, suspect a respiratory infection:

  • Fever or chills, sore throat, muscle aches, runny nose, cough

If you have a respiratory infection and experience signs that indicate you are losing control of your asthma, call your doctor as soon as possible. These signs include:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Cough that is getting worse
  • Production of a large amount of mucus, or mucus that is thicker than usual or is changed in color
  • Awakening at night with asthma
  • Increased need for your rescue inhaler

Follow your doctor’s instructions and your asthma should quickly be brought under control again:

  • Take whatever medicine your doctor prescribes, exactly as directed.
  • Don’t stop taking the medicine unless your doctor tells you to, even if you feel better.
  • Follow directions for clearing your lungs of mucus.
  • Keep your doctor informed of any change in your condition.


Common products in the home can trigger an asthma episode. For example, inhaled fumes from a variety of common household products can irritate the sensitive airways of people with asthma and trigger episodes. These products include:

  • Cleaning solvents
  • Paints, thinners, stains, varnish, and shellac
  • Liquid chlorine bleach
  • Sprays such as furniture polish and oven cleaners
  • Personal products with strong smells such as hair sprays, perfumes, spray deodorants, and cosmetics

How-To Information

To prevent asthma episodes triggered by irritants:

  • Keep strong-smelling chemicals out of the house, or try to stay out of areas where household cleaners and other substances with strong odors are being used.
  • Rooms where hobbies are performed that produce strong smells should be aired thoroughly and often.

Industrial Fumes And Dusts At Work

Reactions to industrial irritants may occur suddenly or take years to develop. Substances known to trigger asthma episodes in susceptible people do so through either an immune response or through irritation of air passages.

Industrial substances causing an immune response include:

  • Wood products (western red cedar)
  • Dusts (flour, cereal)
  • Metals (platinum, chromium, soldering fumes)
  • Mold (decaying hay)

Industrial substances causing an asthma response because of irritation include:

  • Dusts (cotton)
  • Gases (sulfur dioxide, chlorine gas)

How-To Information

Because of the nature of many industrial jobs that bring workers into contact with these known asthma triggers, avoidance is usually not possible. The best protection is the use of approved personal protection and safety equipment associated with your job:

  • Protective eyewear (glasses, goggles, hoods)
  • Masks and respirators with approved filtration devices
  • Proper ventilation and filtration of air in the work area

Air Pollution

There are certainly some “bad days” when it comes to air quality in some of the larger cities. Fine particles, gases, vapors, and smoke are added to the air near industrial areas. These substances can serve as powerful irritants of the sensitive and inflamed airways of some people with asthma. Inhaled pollutants that can act as asthma triggers include:

  • Oxides of nitrogen
  • Ozone
  • Fine particles
  • Sulfur dioxide

Cigarette smoke is a common indoor pollutant that can aggravate inflamed air passages.

How-To Information

To prevent asthma episodes triggered by substances in the air:

  • Avoid breathing secondhand smoke from cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.
  • Make sure no one smokes in your house or car.
  • Always look for non-smoking sections in public areas.
  • Insist on your right to clean air. No one has a right to create a health hazard for you.
  • If possible, avoid places with dirty, congested air such as smoke-filled rooms, parking garages, dusty work areas, and traffic jams.
  • Avoid smoke from barbecues and outdoor fires.
  • Check the ventilation in your home. Modern, airtight homes often trap indoor pollution.
  • Make sure that all fuel-burning appliances such as wood stoves and gas fireplaces are properly adjusted and vented.
  • During days of heavy air pollution, check the news for air quality and pollution alerts.
  • On really bad days, stay indoors and use the air conditioning if you have it.
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activities on days of poor air quality if air pollution is identified as one of your asthma triggers.


Exercise can bring on an asthma episode in some people. Symptoms of asthma may begin after several minutes of exercise or after the exercise is over. They may last for a few minutes to an hour and usually get better by just stopping the exercise, but can continue even with resting.

These symptoms may limit play and interfere with performance. The severity of the asthma episode will depend on how intense and for how long the person has exercised. The symptoms are not caused by the physical effort itself, but by the loss of heat and moisture from the air passages that occurs when dry, cold air is inhaled rapidly.

Nice To Know

Q: Can I still play the same sports I used to?

A: Most adults with asthma under good control can play sports if a good treatment plan has been worked out. Swimming is particularly encouraged by many physicians, but stick with the sports you most enjoy. Exercise and sport is most definitely encouraged for people with asthma.

Remember that one of the goals of asthma control is to allow normal activities to be enjoyed. Exercise is important for both general health and for the health of the lungs. Therefore, if the exercise you enjoy seems to be acting as an asthma trigger for you, ask your doctor about taking medicine before exercise so that the episode can be prevented.

How-To Information

To prevent asthma episodes triggered by exercise:

  • Work out a plan with your doctor. This may mean taking medication 10 to 15 minutes before exercising to prevent symptoms while exercising or playing sports.
  • Appropriate warm-up is important in reducing symptoms and can be very important for competitive athletes.
  • Drink lots of fluids and adjust your activities accordingly on hot, humid days.
  • If asthma symptoms occur during sports, take a short rest and then continue if possible. Medication may need to be taken when symptoms occur.

Nice To Know

As many as 10% of all Olympic athletes are asthmatic.


Asthma symptoms that occur at night are part of nighttime asthma, or nocturnal asthma, a very common condition for many people with asthma. Sleep is not the actual trigger, but while we sleep the airways tend to narrow and mucus tends to build up in the airways, often triggering a bout of coughing. There are many causes of nocturnal asthma, including:

  • At night there are changes in body chemicals, which allow airwayinflammation to increase.
  • The drop in body temperature at night causes airway cooling and narrowing.
  • Allergens encountered in the daytime may produce a delayed response three to eight hours later, just in time for nighttime sleep.
  • Increased drainage from the sinuses while lying down may trigger a reaction in sensitive airways.
  • Lying horizontally may allow some of the stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus. This is called reflux and may trigger an asthma episode in sensitive individuals.

    For more information about gastro esophageal reflux disease, go to Heartburn (GERD).

How-To Information

To help prevent nighttime asthma symptoms:

  • Check with your doctor if you have symptoms of nighttime asthma. Nocturnal asthma often responds to asthma medicines taken before bedtime.
  • If reflux of stomach contents is the cause of your nighttime asthma symptoms, they may be minimized by antacids taken before bedtime, raising the head of the bed, or avoiding meals and alcohol just before bedtime.


The onset of asthma may be seasonal. Weather affects different people in different ways. For example:

  • Heat, humidity, air pollution, and pollen counts in the summer can trigger an asthma episode in some people.
  • In others, the wet conditions of the spring and fall may encourage the growth of certain molds that can trigger an attack.
  • For others, the buildup of smoke, animal dander, and mites in a sealed house in the winter can aggravate asthma. Or, the cold temperature outside may serve as a trigger during physical activity.

How-To Information

To prevent asthma episodes triggered by weather:

  • When the air quality is poor, try to limit outdoor activity.
  • Try to eliminate sources of dampness in the home that may encourage mold growth.
  • Replace furnace and air conditioner filters.
  • Clean humidifiers and dehumidifiers to limit mold growth.
  • Breathe through the nose when outside in cold weather. Cover the nose and mouth with a scarf on extremely cold days.
  • Moving to a different climate with different weather won’t cure asthma. Different triggers are found in different places, but asthma is quite common in all parts of the country. Remember that it is the sensitivity of the airways that is responsible for asthma episodes. The environmental trigger is simply the irritant that starts the process.


Emotions do not cause asthma, but sometimes laughing, crying, and yelling stimulates nerves that cause the tiny muscles in the walls of airways to tighten in sensitive lungs.

People with asthma can become angry or frustrated with their condition and may refuse to take the medicines that will help them. Thus, in an indirect way, emotions such as anger may contribute to asthma symptoms.

How-To Information

To help minimize asthma symptoms due to emotions:

  • Ask your doctor about taking extra medication if you are under severe stress. Do not change your dose on your own.
  • When you start to feel excited, try to concentrate and relax your breathing.
  • Always follow your doctor’s instructions so that you can gain control of your asthma. With control of the situation, frustration and fear will be reduced.

Hormonal Changes

In some women, asthma symptoms increase at a particular time of their menstrual cycle, usually just before their periods. Asthma symptoms may become better or worse during pregnancy, because they may be influenced by hormonal changes.

How-To Information

Ask your doctor if adjusting your asthma medication during times of hormonal change would help you better control your asthma.

Health Problems

Asthma symptoms can be triggered by a variety of health-related factors such as:

  • Respiratory infections such as the common cold and flu
  • Sinusitis (inflammation of the linings of the sinus cavities). Excess mucus production from the nose and sinuses (“postnasal drip”) may drain into the throat and airways. This drainage combined with the release of body chemicals from inflamed sinus linings may act as trigger to irritate the linings of the airways, especially at night.

    For more information about sinusitis, go to Sinusitis.

  • Allergies (pollen, mold, dander)
  • Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a disorder in which the acid contents of the stomach enter the lower part of esophagus. In sensitive individuals, this may cause the asthma to worsen. Heartburn and nighttime asthma symptoms may indicate GERD disease. Inform your doctor of your nighttime difficulty with breathing and your heartburn symptoms. The doctor will prescribe medication that will reduce the symptoms of GERD and provide you with greater asthma control.

    For more information about gastro esophageal reflux disease, go to Heartburn (GERD).

Related Topics

Scroll to Top