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Asthma Causes and Triggers

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Infections and Asthma

Cold, flu, bronchitis, and sinus infections can cause an asthma attack. These respiratory infections that trigger asthma can be viral or bacterial and are a common cause of asthma especially in children under age 10. This airway sensitivity that causes the airways to more easily narrow can last as long as two months after an upper respiratory infection. It's thought that anywhere from 20% to 70% of asthmatic adults have coexisting sinus disease. Conversely, 15% to 56% of those with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or sinusitis have evidence of asthma.

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

Medications and Asthma

Many people with asthma have aspirin-sensitive asthma and it's possible they're sensitive to other medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), aspirin, and beta-blockers (used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, and glaucoma). If you know you're sensitive to these drugs, make sure your doctor has the problem documented on your chart, and always talk to your pharmacist about this reaction before taking a new medication.

For more detail, see WebMD's Aspirin and Other Medications That May Trigger Asthma.

Other Causes of Asthma

Irritants. Many irritants, including tobacco smoke, smoke from wood-burning appliances or fireplaces, strong odors from perfumes, cleaning agents, etc., are all irritants that can trigger asthma. In addition, air pollution, occupational dust or vapors can also trigger an attack.

Weather. Cold air, changes in temperature, and humidity can cause asthma.

Strong emotions. Stress and asthma are often seen together. Anxiety, crying, yelling, stress, anger, or laughing hard can trigger an asthma attack.

How Do Triggers Make Asthma Worse?

In people with asthma, the airways are always inflamed and very sensitive, so they react to a variety of external factors, or "triggers." Coming into contact with these triggers is what causes the symptoms of asthma -- the airways tighten and become inflamed, mucus blocks the airways and results in a worsening of asthma symptoms. An asthma attack can begin immediately after exposure to a trigger or several days or even weeks later.

There are many causes of asthma. Reactions to the causes of asthma are different for each person and vary from time to time. Certain causes of asthma may be harmless to some people but contribute to inflammation in others. Some people have many causes of their asthma while others have no identifiable ones. Recognizing and avoiding the specific causes of asthma, when possible, is an important way to control asthma. Keep in mind, however, that the best way to control is with asthma treatment and asthma drugs.

How Can I Tell What Causes and Triggers My Asthma?

Determining what factors were present when your asthma symptoms started is the first step to identifying the causes of your asthma. Although there are many different asthma triggers, you may not react to all of them. Some people have only one cause or trigger, while others have many causes.

Many causes of asthma can be identified through a history of reaction and skin or blood testing. Your doctor may also recommend using a device called a peak flow meter. The peak flow meter measures how much and how quickly air is exhaled from the lungs. It can alert you to changes in your breathing and the onset of asthma symptoms.

Ask your asthma doctor if using a peak flow meter would be helpful to you as you narrow down the causes of your asthma.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on August 04, 2012
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