Kirkland Family Medical Center

Asthma Triggers

Asthma can be triggered by a variety of factors, including certain activities and exercise.


One of the most common triggers is exercise. Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) produces symptoms of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and breathing difficulty during periods of physical exertion.

Exercise-induced asthma can affect people with or without other forms of asthma.


Allergies are a common trigger of asthma attacks. Asthma symptoms that result from allergies is referred to allergic asthma.

Animal Dander

Some people are allergic to the flakes of skin or dried saliva from animals with fur or feathers. For those suffering from pet allergies, the best measure is to keep furred or feather pets out of the home.

If you can't keep the pet outdoors, keep the pet out of your bedroom and other sleeping areas at all times, and keep the door closed. You might also consider removing carpets and furniture covered with cloth from your home. If that is not possible, keep the pet away from fabric-covered furniture and carpets.

Dust Mites

Many people with asthma suffer from dust mite allergies. Dust mites are tiny bugs that are found in every home - in mattresses, pillows, carpets, upholstered furniture, bedcovers, clothes, stuffed toys, and fabric or other fabric-covered items.

Steps you can take to reduce your exposure to dust mites include:

  • Encase your mattress in a special dust-proof cover.
  • Encase your pillow in a special dust-proof cover or wash the pillow each week in hot water. Water must be hotter than 130º F to kill the mites. Cold or warm water used with detergent and bleach can also be effective.
  • Wash the sheets and blankets on your bed each week in hot water.
  • Reduce indoor humidity to below 60 percent (ideally between 30-50 percent). Dehumidifiers or central air conditioners can do this.
  • Try not to sleep or lie on cloth-covered cushions.
  • Remove carpets from your bedroom and those laid on concrete, if you can.
  • Keep stuffed toys out of the bed or wash the toys weekly in hot water or cooler water with detergent and bleach.


Many people with asthma are allergic to the dried droppings and remains of cockroaches.

Steps you can take to reduce your exposure to cockroaches include:

  • Keep food and garbage in closed containers. Never leave food out.
  • Use poison baits, powders, gels, or paste (for example, boric acid). You can also use traps.
  • If a spray is used to kill roaches, stay out of the room until the odor goes away.

Indoor Mold

Mold is a common indoor allergen. Steps that can be taken to reduce exposure to indoor mold include:

  • Fix leaky faucets, pipes, or other sources of water that have mold around them.
  • Clean moldy surfaces with a cleaner that has bleach in it.

Pollen and Outdoor Mold

Those with allergies to pollens, such as ragweed, or outdoor mold might consider taking the following steps.

  • Try to keep your windows closed.
  • Stay indoors with windows closed from late morning to afternoon, if you can. Pollen and some mold spore counts are highest at that time.
  • Ask your doctor whether you need to take or increase anti-inflammatory medicine before your allergy season starts.


Some irritants in the air can trigger allergy symptoms

Ozone and Air Pollutants

Air with high levels of ozone and particulate matter can trigger asthma.

Tobacco Smoke

  • If you smoke, ask your doctor for ways to help you quit. Ask family members to quit smoking, too.
  • Do not allow smoking in your home or car.

Smoke, Strong Odors, and Sprays

  • If possible, do not use a wood-burning stove, kerosene heater, or fireplace.
  • Try to stay away from strong odors and sprays, such as perfume, talcum powder, hair spray, and paints.

Vacuum Cleaning

  • Try to get someone else to vacuum for you once or twice a week, if you can. Stay out of rooms while they are being vacuumed and for a short while afterward.
  • If you vacuum, use a dust mask (from a hardware store), a double-layered or microfilter vacuum cleaner bag, or a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Other Things That Can Make Asthma Worse

  • Sulfites in foods and beverages: Do not drink beer or wine or eat dried fruit, processed potatoes, or shrimp if they cause asthma symptoms.
  • Cold air: Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf on cold or windy days.

This is not a complete list of all the things that can bring on asthma symptoms. People can have trouble with one or more of these. It is important for you to learn which ones are problems for you. Your doctor can help you identify which things affect your asthma and ways to avoid them.

Reference: The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute