Allergic Asthma Triggers to Watch For

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on March 15, 2024
3 min read

If your child has allergic asthma and inhales one of their triggers, that can launch an attack, making them cough, wheeze, and have trouble breathing. It’s best to know what your child’s triggers are so you can help them avoid it altogether or at least keep them far, far away.

Each person has their own set of asthma triggers, but there are some common ones you can watch for.

These tiny critters are one of the most common triggers of allergic asthma. They survive on the dead skin flakes that all humans shed naturally. They hide in sheets, mattresses, pillows, blankets, stuffed toys, carpets, curtains, and upholstered furniture. There’s not much you can do about shedding dead skin, but you can work to keep dust mites from bothering your family. Wash any bed linens that you can at least once a week in hot water, then put them in a hot dryer. Wash stuffed toys the same way. There are also special covers for mattresses and pillows. If you can, trade in carpets, rugs, and fabric furniture for wood, vinyl, and other smooth surfaces.

These pests are everywhere but are most common in cities and in southern U.S. states. They eat and drink the same things you do: water and leftovers. But they (and their droppings) can trigger asthma flares. To prevent them, keep food stored in the fridge or in an airtight container, wash dishes right after you use them, sweep up any crumbs, and plug any holes or cracks that let cockroaches get inside. You can also set out traps. If you see any roach droppings, sweep them up right away and put them in the trash. And keep a lid on your trash can inside and take it out often.

It’s both an indoor and outdoor trigger for allergic asthma. Outside, it thrives in soil and plant debris, which doesn’t really pose a health problem. Inside, mold is a hazard, lurking in damp places like basements, the kitchen sink, and anywhere you have leaks or standing water. Your best defense is to get rid of as much moisture as possible from your home. Clean up any mold you can see, use exhaust fans when you’re in the shower, and run a dehumidifier or air conditioner. A drier house will also cut down on roaches and mites.

Cats, dogs, hamsters, birds, and other furry and feathered friends can also be asthma triggers. But the fur and feathers aren’t the problem. It’s the animals’ dander, urine, and saliva. If you don’t have a pet, it’s best not to get one. If you do, try to keep them out of your child’s bedroom and off of upholstered furniture and carpets. It’s also a good idea to bathe the pet at least once a week and vacuum or sweep regularly.

Pollen allergies depend on where you live and the time of the year. For instance, pollen from trees tends to be a problem in the spring, while grass is a problem in the summer, and fall means weeds. (Climate change also means that pollen seasons can last longer than they used to.) Thunderstorms can also cause plants to release their pollen. Keep an eye on local weather forecasts and pollen counts, and have your child stay indoors on days when the counts are high.

There are a million good reasons to keep yourself and your child away from tobacco smoke, and allergic asthma is one of them. Secondhand smoke is extra toxic to young children because their lungs aren’t mature yet. Make sure no one smokes in your home or your car. Other types of smoke, such as from wood-burning stoves, can also make asthma worse. If you can, avoid wood fires, inside and outside.

Many household products give off scents that can trigger an asthma attack. This includes cleaning agents with chlorine, scented candles, incense, hairspray, air fresheners, deodorants and perfumes, paint, and pesticides. Look for fragrance-free personal care products. If you need to use paint or pesticides, make sure your child is not nearby.