Avoiding Common Household Asthma Triggers

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 24, 2022
4 min read

If your child has asthma, you know that lots of things -- from secondhand smoke to plant and tree pollen -- can trigger an asthma attack.

When your child is exposed to a trigger, their airways swell, restricting air flow through the lungs. This is what causes the symptoms of asthma, such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Helping your child avoid triggers can help keep asthma under control.

But avoiding asthma triggers isn’t always so easy. Triggers are different for everyone. And there are some triggers you can’t control, such as pollution or pollen levels.

You can control the triggers in one of the most important places in your child’s life -- your home. Here are some ways to keep your home trigger-free -- and your child breathing easily.

Other kinds of smoke and fumes can also trigger an asthma attack. These include fumes from gas, wood, or kerosene stoves as well as the exhaust from cars and buses.

All fuel-burning appliances -- such as stoves, fireplaces, gas or kerosene space heaters, and oil and gas furnaces -- can produce nitrogen dioxide. You can’t smell or see this gas, but it can irritate your nose, eyes and throat, and can trigger asthma.

To keep your household air free of fumes:

• Make sure that all stoves are properly vented to the outside. For gas stoves, be sure to use an exhaust fan that vents outside while cooking.

• If you use a wood stove, use it according to the manufacturer’s directions and be sure that the doors fit tightly.

• When using an unvented kerosene or gas space heater, crack open a window or use an exhaust fan.

• Before using your fireplace, be sure that the flue is open so that smoke can escape out the chimney.

• No matter what kind of heating system you use, have it cleaned and inspected each year.

• To reduce the risk of exhaust fumes getting into your home, don’t keep your car idling inside an attached garage.

Many common household products, such as cleaning supplies, paints, pesticides, perfumes, and soaps, can be a problem for some children with asthma. Any product with a strong smell releases chemicals into the air. For a child with asthma, these fumes can cause an attack.

Here are some tips if your child’s asthma is triggered by strong smells:

• Keep cleaning products out of your child’s reach, and away from where your child can breathe in the fumes.

• When choosing soaps, shampoos, and detergents, look for those that are unscented or fragrance-free. However, these products may still contain some fragrance, so you'll still need to be careful.

• Make sure your child is not exposed to fumes from harsh cleaners. You can also look for nontoxic or all-natural options at the store or use hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar.

• Read the labels on all cleaning products and follow the directions.

• When using any type of household cleaner, open a window to allow fresh air into your home.

• Try to clean when your child is not at home, or when they're in another room.

• Don't wear perfumes or colognes.

• If you use art supplies, such as paints, inks or clays, keep them stored with the lids tightly closed when not being used. Chalk dust can also be an asthma trigger for some children.

• Don't use air fresheners or scented candles.


Many kids with asthma also have allergies to pets, bugs, and mold, which are common asthma triggers. If your child is allergic, you can reduce your child’s exposure to these triggers by following these tips:

• Keep pets off of furniture, beds, and carpets, where their fur or dander can build up. And don’t let pets sleep in your child’s bedroom.

• Make sure your child washes their hands and face after playing with pets.

• Wash sheets and other bedding in hot water at least once a week to limit dust mites. You can also cover pillows and mattresses with special dust-proof covers.

• Limit your use of pesticide sprays when you can. Keep cockroaches out of your home by keeping food in airtight containers or in the fridge and keeping your trash tightly covered. Seal up any cracks where roaches can get in. Use baits and traps to kill roaches. If you do use spray pesticides, keep your child out of the area for several hours after spraying.

• Prevent mold by repairing any leaks or areas of excess moisture in your home, and by replacing any moldy carpets or ceiling tiles.

• Open windows or use exhaust fans when cooking or showering to help prevent mold.

Secondhand smoke is a common asthma trigger. For some children, even the smell of smoke on clothing can be enough to cause breathing problems. To keep your home free of smoke, try these tips:

• Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.

• Make sure other caregivers don’t smoke around your child.

• If you or other family members must smoke, do it outside, away from windows or doors, and be sure to wash your hands after smoking. Wear a shawl or blanket outside to reduce the amount of smoke residue on your clothing. Changing clothes and washing your hands and hair is ideal upon coming inside if your child's asthma is triggered by secondhand smoke.