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Dealing With Asthma Triggers

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD

What's an Asthma Trigger?

"Trigger" is a funny word for something that makes your asthma worse.

For example, petting your aunt's cat or playing outside after the grass is cut are things that might "trigger" your asthma symptoms. You might get an asthma flare-up (or "attack"), which can make you cough, wheeze, or have trouble breathing.

People with asthma have different triggers. Some people have one or two, while others have a bunch. Triggers may change from winter to summer.

What Are My Asthma Triggers?

Your doctor will help you figure out your asthma triggers. Common triggers are:

  • colds, the flu, and COVID-19
  • allergens (say: AL-ur-jenz), which are things that cause allergic reactions
  • irritants (say: EAR-uh-tunts), including dirty stuff in the air, like smoke or pollution
  • weather conditions
  • exercise

To find out your triggers, the doctor may suggest that you keep an asthma diary for a couple of weeks. This means you or an adult will write down when and where you have symptoms and flare-ups. You also may see a special doctor called an allergist (say: AL-ur-jist), who can figure out if you have any allergies that might be causing your symptoms.

How Can I Avoid My Asthma Triggers?

Learning about your triggers is one part of your asthma action plan that your doctor will help you write down. This plan will look at all the things you need to do to manage your asthma, including how to avoid or handle your triggers.

You can't keep away from all triggers all the time. But avoiding them as much as possible can help prevent flare-ups.

How Can I Avoid Getting Sick?

Colds, the flu, and COVID-19 can be hard to avoid. To help protect yourself, wash your hands well and often and stay away from people who are sick. Getting a flu vaccine each year and an updated COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for all kids, but is extra important for kids with asthma.

How Can I Avoid Allergens?

Allergens are a very common trigger. They include:

  • mold
  • dust mites (tiny insects that live in dust)
  • cockroaches
  • pollen (a kind of dust that comes from plants)
  • animal dander (skin flakes that are kind of like dandruff)
  • animal saliva (spit) and urine (pee)
  • feathers

You won't be able to stay away from all allergens, but you can:

  • Keep your room as clean and free of dust as possible. This means vacuuming and dusting weekly, and getting rid of clutter. Your old stuffed animals might need to go into a box in the attic.
  • Wash your sheets weekly in hot water. You can get covers for your mattress, box spring, and pillows that will help too.
  • Get rid of carpets. Any kind of rug or carpeting can collect allergens that cause asthma symptoms.
  • Keep any pets out of your room. Before you spend the night at a friend's house, find out what kinds of pets he or she has.

If your asthma symptoms are triggered by allergies, you might also need to take allergy medicine or have allergy shots. Your doctor will let you know.

How Can I Avoid Irritants?

Triggers in the air — also called irritants — can bother people who don't have allergies or asthma too. Irritants aren't a serious problem for them, but for people with asthma, they can lead to flare-ups.

Common irritants include perfumes and aerosol (say: AIR-uh-sol) sprays, such as hair spray and cleaners. Other irritants include wood and tobacco smoke, the smell given off by paint or gas, and air pollution.

If you notice that an irritant triggers your asthma, let an adult know, so they can keep it away from you. This might mean switching to different cleaning products, for instance. If smoke bothers you, avoid fires in the fireplace or woodstove. And of course, no one should smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products or vape around you.

If outdoor air pollution is a problem, running the air conditioner or an air cleaner can help. Having an adult check air quality reports is a good idea. On days when the quality is bad, you might want to stay indoors.

How Can I Handle Bad Weather?

Some types of weather can cause your asthma to act up, such as:

  • windy conditions that stir up pollens and molds
  • rain that lets trees and grasses produce even more pollen later in the season
  • very cold or very hot weather
  • humidity (when the air has a lot of moisture in it) or very dry air

If you know that some weather conditions make your asthma worse, you or your parent should keep an eye on the forecast — on some days, you may need to spend less time outdoors. If cold weather is the problem, you'll want to wear a scarf that will cover your nose and mouth when you go outside.

How Can I Handle Exercising?

Exercise like running or playing a sport is another common trigger. But this is one trigger that you shouldn't avoid because exercise is important for your health.

Your doctor will want you to be active, so talk with them about what to do before playing sports. For instance, you might need to take medicine 15–30 minutes before you exercise or play sports. And, of course, you'll want to have the medicine that you use for quick relief of symptoms (sometimes called quick-relief, rescue, or fast-acting medicine) with you all the time.

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: March 2024