Asthma Risk Factors

There are usually reasons or risk factors that predispose you to asthma and respiratory problems. Asthma can happen to anyone without any risk factors, but it is less likely if there are no risk factors present.

Let's look at some asthma risk factors and see how they increase the chance that a person will have the asthma symptoms of cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath associated with the disease. After determining your personal risk factors for asthma, decide on the ones you can control and try to make some lifestyle changes. Avoidance of the risk factors you can control is crucial in preventing asthma symptoms. While you cannot change your gender or family history, you can avoid smoking with asthma, breathing polluted air, allergens, and taking care of your general health so you don't become overweight. Take control of your asthma -- by controlling your asthma risk factors. By understanding all the risk factors, you may be able to prevent or control your asthma.

Gender and Asthma

Childhood asthma occurs more frequently in boys than in girls. It's unknown why this occurs, although some experts find a young male's airway size is smaller when compared to the female's airway, which may contribute to increased risk of wheezing after a cold or other viral infection. Around age 20, the ratio of asthma between men and women is the same. At age 40, more females than males have adult asthma.

Family History of Asthma

Blame Mom or Dad or both for your asthma. Your inherited genetic makeup predisposes you to having asthma. In fact, it's thought that three-fifths of all asthma cases are hereditary. According to a CDC report, if a person has a parent with asthma, he or she is three to six times more likely to develop asthma than someone who does not have a parent with asthma.

Atopy and Asthma

Atopy refers to a genetic tendency to develop eczema (atopic dermatitis), allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma. Atopy causes a heightened sensitivity to common allergens, especially those that are in food and in the air.

Some children with eczema or atopic dermatitis develop asthma. Some findings indicate that children with atopic dermatitis may have more severe and persistent asthma as adults.

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Allergies Linked to Asthma

Allergies and asthma often coexist. Indoor allergies are a predictor of who might be at risk for an asthma diagnosis. One nationwide study showed levels of bacterial toxins called endotoxins in house dust were directly related toasthma symptoms.

Sources of other indoor allergens include animal proteins (particularly cat and dog allergens), dust mites, cockroaches, fungi, and mold. Changes that have made houses more "energy-efficient" over the years are thought to increase exposure to these causes of asthma.

Environmental Factors and Asthma

Indoor air pollution such as cigarette smoke, mold, and noxious fumes from household cleaners and paints can cause allergic reactions and asthma. Environmental factors such as pollution, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, cold temperatures, and high humidity are all known to trigger asthma in susceptible individuals. In fact, asthma symptoms and hospital admissions are greatly increased during periods of heavy air pollution. Ozone is the major destructive ingredient in smog. It causes coughing, shortness of breath, and even chest pain -- and can boost the susceptibility to infection. Sulfur dioxide, another component of smog, also irritates the airways and constricts the air passages, resulting in asthma attacks.

Gas stoves are the primary source of indoor nitrogen dioxide, a common indoor pollutant. Studies show that people who cook with gas are more likely to have wheezing, breathlessness, asthma attacks, and hay fever than those who cook with other methods. It is estimated that more than half of the households in the U.S. use gas stoves.

Weather changes can also result in asthma attacks in some people. For instance, cold air causes airway congestion and an increase in mucus production. Increases in humidity may also cause breathing difficulty in a certain population.

Cigarette Smoke Is an Asthma Risk Factor

Several studies confirm that cigarette smoking is linked with an increased risk for developing asthma. There's also evidence that cigarette smoking among adolescents increases the risk of asthma. Even more findings link secondhand smoke exposure with the development of asthma in early life.

The Link Between Obesity and Asthma

Some studies show that asthma is more common in overweight adults and children. Overweight asthmatics seem to have more uncontrolled asthma and more days on medications for asthma.

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Pregnancy and Asthma

Maternal smoking during pregnancy appears to result in lower lung function in infants compared to those whose mothers did not smoke. Premature birth is also a risk factor for developing asthma.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on February 16, 2016

Sources

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Smolley, L. Breathe Right Now, Norton, 1999.

Porsbjerg, C. Chest, 2006.

Kirkpatrick, G.L. Prim Care 1996.

Weiss, S.T. Bronchial Asthma Mechanisms and Therapeutics, 3rd ed., Little Brown, 1993.

Litonjua, A.A. Am J Clin Nutr 2006.

Beuther, D. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, April 1, 2007.

WebMD Medical News: "Toxins in Dust Raise Incidence of Asthma." 

CDC: "Asthma: Risk Factors."

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Atopy."

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