6 Surprising Asthma Triggers

Is this the reason you're wheezing?

Medically reviewed in September 2021

Updated on April 7, 2022

inhaler, asthma, asthma treatment
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Hidden Triggers to Avoid

People with asthma know the obvious triggers that can send them into a coughing fit. Exercising, cigarette smoke and dust all pop into mind. But there are other unique causes of asthma attacks that may not be on your radar.

If you're not sure why your asthma has been acting up, check this list of surprising triggers to see if one of these is affecting you. By getting to know your triggers, you may be able to help prevent attacks before they even happen.

roach, cockroach, insect, pest
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Creepy Critters

Gross as it is, some people are allergic to a protein found in cockroaches and their waste. This can bring on nasty asthma symptoms year-round, even when the bugs are dead.

Solution: Make your home unwelcome to roaches. These bugs are looking for water, food and a place to nest, so tidy up. Tightly close trash and recycle bins. Seal up Fido's food. Fix leaky pipes, get rid of old boxes and junk mail, and repair any cracks in walls, floors or ceilings. If you need to kill a critter, be sure to use bug traps instead of sprays, which can irritate your breathing even more. 

medicine, tylenol, aspirin, water, drugs, medication, pain medicine
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Painkillers and Antacids

Popping an aspirin may help relieve your sore back, but it could hurt your breathing. A fair amount of people with asthma have aspirin sensitivity that can lead to severe attacks. Your doctor may ask you to avoid aspirin at all costs, even if you're not sure it's a trigger for you. Watch out for hidden sources of aspirin, like Alka-Seltzer. Ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs can also irritate your asthma.

Solution: Tylenol is asthma-safe, but talk to your doctor to get the right pill recommendation for your needs. For chronic pain, consider drug-free solutions, such as yoga or meditation.

traffic, smog, air pollution, commute, car
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Rush Hour

Air pollution is big trigger for asthma. It can make your symptoms worse and in most situations it can be unavoidable. Big, bustling cities have more dangerous smog in the air, and cruising with your windows down could fill your lungs with lots of dirty particles.

Solution: Tune into your local news station for the weather or search the web for daily air quality index reports. It could be risky for you to go outside when there's high pollution (orange or red days). On those days, stay in well-ventilated, air-conditioned buildings and try not to exercise outside. 

headache, pain, stress, businessman
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Daily Drain

Feeling overwhelmed can send you on the straight path toward an asthma attack. It doesn't matter what you're feeling anxious about. Even lower levels of stress can lead to shortness of breath, which can lead to needing your inhaler.

Solution: Stress is a natural part of life. But finding ways to calm down mentally may help you calm down physically. When you're feeling especially worried, start with taking a deep breath. Make sure you have a friend, family member or professional to talk to about your feelings. Your mind and body will also be more at peace if you get plenty of sleep, exercise and avoid junk food.

cold, winter, scarf
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Chilly Weather

When the weather changes for the cooler, it's time to start getting excited for the holidays. But your asthma may not be as thrilled. Cold, dry air can be trouble for your airway, and it can sometimes prompt an asthma attack.

Solution: If you have to be outside in the cold, protect your nose and mouth by covering them. Wearing a face mask can help keep away the chill and make breathing a little easier. It's especially important to wear one if you're exercising outside, like your morning walk. 

food, picnic, meal, shrimp, cheese, bread, wine, punch
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Sulfites are a chemical compound that can occur naturally in some foods, but are mostly used as an additive to keep processed foods fresh. They're a problem for people with asthma because they can irritate the lungs, triggering wheezing and cough.

Solution: Avoid fermented products, like beer, wine and vinegar. Also, preserved foods—including pickles, dried fruit and even guacamole—often contain sulfites. Some processed meats and frozen seafood are also risky. Cooking meals at home using fresh ingredients is the best way to avoid this trigger.

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