Asthma triggers

We look at some common asthma triggers and tips on how to manage them.

These triggers irritate the airways causing them to become swollen, narrow and or full of mucus.

There are some common triggers; cold air, exercise, respiratory infections and allergies, but it’s different for everyone. The way irritants affect people can vary significantly.

Know your trigger

Bupa Medical Director, Dr Tim Ross says knowing your triggers is an important part of managing your asthma.

“As a GP, I talk to my patients about the severity of their asthma and what the triggers are.  Then it’s all about trying to find the best way to manage it,”   says Dr Ross.
While the most common triggers are respiratory infections like cold and flu, exercise, cold air and allergens - it’s not always possible to work out exactly what is setting you off.
“It’s easy if it’s the cold or exercise because people can pick that,” says Dr Ross. “But when it’s an allergen sometimes you need allergy testing to see what you’re allergic to.”

Allergic asthma

Allergic asthma is the most usual type of asthma. Those with asthma often have either eczema or hay fever and vice versa.

If allergies to pollens or grasses set your asthma off, taking antihistamines through the spring time may help.

“Some people take an antihistamine every day for hay fever. You can do the same thing for asthma,” says Ross. “So why would you take an antihistamine? Because you’re trying to stop the response to your trigger.”

If you don’t know what you’re allergic to or you’re struggling to manage your asthma, Ross says an allergist or an immunologist can perform scratch or patch tests to identify what you’re allergic too.

If you’re really struggling with allergies you might decide to try desensitisation injections. This involves being injected with small amounts of allergens over time at increasing doses to help the body get used to it.
little boy sneezing

Managing your triggers

Often there are triggers you simply can’t avoid. If it’s cold air, you can’t lock yourself inside for winter.  If it’s a cold or flu there’s no guarantee you can stop yourself from getting sick.

Ross says the key to managing your triggers is to be really vigilant with taking preventer medication.
He says the best way to gauge how you’re managing your response to triggers is how often you’re using your reliever medication (salbutamol or terbutaline).

“The idea is to stop the reaction happening to the point where you don’t need a reliever medication like salbutamol or terbutaline,” says Ross. 
“So for a preventer you’ll go on inhaled corticosteroids (steroid inhaler) twice a day and maybe a long acting Ventolin which we call a symptom controller as opposed to a reliever. The idea is to take the minimum amount you need.”
If exercise is your trigger, don’t avoid it. Instead Dr Ross says it’s important to take Ventolin before exercising and keep up with your preventers.
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