Living with asthma can be a challenge, especially when triggers set off symptoms. Understanding what can trigger asthma is the first step to managing it effectively.
Theron McCormick, MD, pediatric allergist and immunologist with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health, shares what parents of children with asthma need to know about triggers.
There’s no one type of asthma, and each diagnosis is as unique as the patient. However, there are common triggers that families and their providers need to stay aware of, including:
When they’re between ages 2 and 10, kids average seven to 10 respiratory viral infections each year, which is essentially normal for the age group.
Respiratory infections can trigger asthma by causing inflammation and narrowing of the airways, which makes it harder to breathe. When a child with asthma has a cold, flu or bronchitis, these respiratory illnesses can make their asthma symptoms worse.
Allergens such as pollen (from trees, weeds or grasses), dust mites, cats, dogs and molds — both inside and outside homes — can all be asthma triggers. Such allergens can trigger asthma by causing an allergic reaction leading to inflammation and narrowing of the airways.
It is very important to identify the allergens that trigger your child’s asthma and take steps to avoid them. Measures such as keeping the home clean and free of dust, using air filters, and avoiding or reducing outdoor activities during days with high pollen counts can help support a healthy airway and minimize allergen exposures.
Non-allergy triggers, or irritants, are things like air quality, both indoor and outdoor. Wood or gas burning stoves impact indoor air quality. Other irritants children with asthma should avoid include tobacco smoke, strong odors, perfumes, colognes and scented candles. Do not smoke around children, especially in the home, car and other enclosed spaces. Children who live with adults who smoke outdoors still have more breathing problems and asthma symptoms that those who do not.
Ozone and particulate matter can be floating around the neighborhood outdoors from exhaust or diesel. They can manifest during certain times of the year and certain times of day and are present more often during the evenings of sunny days, irritating airways and triggering asthma.
Avoiding Triggers with a Tailored Plan
Families can work with their primary care provider or a specialist like Dr. McCormick to develop an asthma action plan specific to that child and their family. Follow-up is critical to make sure that the intervention put in place actually works.
Once asthma is well-controlled, the doctor and family can work together to reduce any interventions and medications to the least amount needed to maintain that control.