Most people with asthma have inflamed or swollen airways all the time. This makes the airways very sensitive to certain triggers. Triggers vary among people and include anything that causes asthma symptoms to flare. Following are some common triggers. As you read this section, think of the factors present in your surroundings (school, work place, home and environment) that trigger your asthma.


Asthma may be triggered by an allergic reaction to animals, dust mites, pollens, mold, or other inhaled substances. There are two main forms of allergic asthma. The most common type, symptoms are seasonal or with clear exposures (such as a cat). Chronic allergic exposure can cause the asthma to be worse all the time. Dust mites, living with the animal you are allergic to, and mold often cause this. Allergy testing is very helpful in identifying which substances really cause your problem.


Cigarette smoke, dust, air pollution, strong fumes, and cold air may irritate the lining of the bronchial tubes. In addition, seasonal changes may worsen asthma symptoms.


Exposure to substances found at the workplace, such as flour (Baker’s asthma), wood dusts, and chemicals may trigger asthma symptoms.


Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, but some people have asthma symptoms during or after exercise. Learning to exercise safely is crucial for managing your asthma.


Respiratory infections commonly trigger asthma symptoms that can be severe in some people. These infections are usually caused by a virus. Medications for bacterial infection (antibiotics) do not work against viral infections. Antibiotics are not routinely needed for asthma attacks. However, more asthma medication may be needed to treat the worsening asthma symptoms caused by a virus (common cold). Viruses that cause asthma attacks are spread through contact. Frequent hand washing and limited hand-to-nose contact may help prevent these infections.

Asthma attacks triggered by cold viruses can lead to severe breathing difficulty. Early treatment with asthma medications and consultation with your physician is recommended.

Adults with chronic asthma should receive yearly influenza shots in the fall. Pregnant women and parents of children with asthma should consult their allergist about the need for influenza immunization.

The pneumococcal vaccine also is recommended for adults with chronic asthma. This vaccine helps prevent one form of pneumonia.

Side effects from both the influenza vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine include a sore arm and flu-like symptoms (a feverish feeling and aching). These side effects last about 48 hours and occur in a small percentage of people receiving the vaccines.


Some people develop severe asthma attacks after taking aspirin or aspirin-like drugs including ibuprofen, indomethacin, naproxen, and others. Many of these people also have nasal polyps (small, non-cancerous tumors in the nose). If you are sensitive to aspirin, check the labels of all medications before using them. Many pain-relief and cold-relief products sold over the counter contain aspirin (also called acetylsalicylic acid). Other pain medications, such as sodium salicylate, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and propoxyphene (Darvon), may be taken instead.


There are many different types of asthma but no matter the trigger, any asthma attack can be scary. Many people find themselves wondering when to seek follow up care. In essence they wonder, “How bad does it have to get before I need to go in?” Dr. Bubak has developed this resource to help you determine when you should get follow up care for your asthma.