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Asthma Causes and Triggers

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Food and Food Additives Trigger Asthma

Food allergies can cause mild to severe life-threatening reactions. They rarely cause isolated asthma without other symptoms. Patients with food allergies may exhibit asthma as part of food-induced anaphylaxis. The most common foods associated with allergic symptoms are:

  • Eggs
  • Cow's milk
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nute
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shrimp and other shellfish
  • Salads
  • Fresh fruits

Food preservatives can trigger isolated asthma. Sulfite additives, such as sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite, are commonly used in food processing or preparation and may trigger asthma in those people who are sensitive.

For more detail, see WebMD's Food Allergies and Asthma.

Exercise-Induced Asthma

Strenuous exercise can cause a narrowing of the airways in about 80% of people with asthma. In some people, exercise is the main trigger for their asthma symptoms. If you have exercise-induced asthma, you will feel chest tightness, coughing, and difficulty breathing within the first 5 to 15 minutes of an aerobic workout. These symptoms usually subside in the next 30 to 60 minutes of exercise, but up to 50% of those with exercise-induced asthma may have another asthma attack 6 to 10 hours later. It is important to warm up slowly and adequately prior to rigorous exercise. This may prevent an attack.

For more detail, see WebMD's Exercise-Induced Asthma.

Heartburn and Asthma

Severe heartburn and asthma often go hand-in-hand. Recent studies show that up to 89% of those with asthma also suffer from severe heartburn, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD generally occurs at night when the sufferer is lying down. Normally a valve between the esophagus and stomach prevents stomach acids from backing up into the esophagus. In GERD, the valve does not function properly. The stomach acids reflux, or back up, into the esophagus; if the acid reaches into the throat or airways the irritation and inflammation can trigger an asthma attack.

Certain clues that suggest reflux as the cause of asthma include the onset of asthma in adulthood, no family history of asthma, no history of allergies or bronchitis, difficult-to-control asthma, or coughing while lying down.

If your doctor suspects this problem, he or she may recommend specific tests to look for it, change your foods, or offer you medications.

For more detail, see WebMD's Heartburn and Asthma.

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