What Triggers Asthma?

Reviewed on 6/21/2022

A toddler using an asthma nebulizer mask to help her breathe easier
Common asthma triggers may include exposure to an allergen (pollen, ragweed, dust mites, mold, or animal dander), irritants in the air (smoke, strong odors, chemical fumes), illness (especially respiratory illness or the flu), stress, exercise, extreme weather conditions, and others.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to breathe. 

Asthma is usually caused by an immune system response to a substance in the lungs.

10 Common Asthma Triggers

Common asthma triggers may include: 

  • Exposure to an allergen (such as pollen, ragweed, dust mites, mold, or animal dander)
  • Irritants in the air (such as smoke, strong odors, chemical fumes) 
  • Illness, especially respiratory illness or the flu 
  • Stress
  • Certain medications
  • Some foods
  • Exercise
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Panic 
  • Physical display of strong emotion that affects normal breathing patterns, such as laughing, crying, or shouting

What Are Symptoms of Asthma?

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing, especially at night or early morning, during exercise, or when laughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing 
  • Chest tightness

When symptoms of asthma significantly worsen and require a change in the usual treatment, it is considered an asthma attack. Asthma attacks may start gradually or suddenly and can be life-threatening. 

People with asthma may also experience stress, anxiety, and depression because asthma can result in work and school absences and a disruption to their usual activities.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma is diagnosed with a patient history and a physical examination. Tests used to help diagnose asthma or rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms include: 

  • Pulmonary function tests
    • Spirometry    
    • Peak expiratory flow (PEF)    
    • Provocation (trigger) tests
    • Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) tests    
    • Bronchoprovocation tests    
  • Allergy skin or blood tests (for people with a history of allergies)

What Asthma Medications and Treatments Are Used?

Treatment for asthma is aimed at controlling symptoms and reducing asthma attacks with the fewest side effects. A personalized “asthma action plan” may be prescribed to patients with instructions to follow at home to manage asthma.

Asthma is usually treated with two types of medications: quick-relief and long-term control. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) may also be used.

Quick-relief medications are bronchodilators taken at the first sign of asthma symptoms to expand the airways for immediate relief:

  • Short-acting inhaled beta2-agonists (inhalers)
  • Anticholinergics

Long-term asthma control medications are taken daily to prevent symptoms and asthma attacks and include:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids 
  • Long-acting inhaled beta2-agonists (usually combined with an inhaled corticosteroid)
  • Antileukotrienes or leukotriene modifiers 

For severe asthma, traditional treatments may be insufficient, and other therapies may be used, such as:

  • Oral corticosteroids
  • Biologics
  • Immunotherapy, useful when asthma is triggered by an allergy
    • Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy [SCIT])
    • Sublingual (under the tongue) tablets or drops (sublingual immunotherapy [SLIT])


Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease. See Answer

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Reviewed on 6/21/2022

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