IDENTIFY AND MANAGE ASTHMA TRIGGERS
The change in seasons is a great time for clinicians and Vermonters with asthma to focus on identifying and reducing allergens and irritants that can lead to asthma attacks. Irritating triggers are unique to each person and can include tobacco smoke, outdoor and indoor air pollution like diesel exhaust, fireplace smoke, dust mites, pet dander, and more.
The prevalence of asthma in Vermont and other New England states is among the highest in the nation. In 2017, 12% of Vermont adults had asthma, which was the fifth-highest rate in the U.S. In 2017, 7% of Vermont children had asthma. A child’s asthma may be worsened by similar triggers as adults including cold air, exercise, dust, strong emotions, flu, and viral infections.
COMMON SIGNS OF ASTHMA
Asthma is serious. But it doesn’t have to control your life. The first step to taking on asthma is understanding your symptoms and what triggers them.
Common signs of asthma:
- A cough, especially one that’s worse at night or early in the morning
- A whistling sound when you breathe called wheezing
- A feeling of tightness in your chest like someone is squeezing or sitting on you
- Trouble breathing or feeling like you can’t catch your breath, can’t breathe out, or are breathing more shallow or faster than usual.
Symptoms can vary between people, and at different times of the day or year. Even if your symptoms are usually mild, or don’t happen all the time, they can still stop you from doing the things you want to do—and can flare up suddenly and get worse quickly. It’s important to always take asthma seriously.
common asthma triggers
If you have asthma, small changes at home can mean big differences in you and your family’s breathing. A good first step is to identify and reduce your asthma triggers. An asthma “trigger” is something —like an allergy or chemical—that irritates your airways and flares your symptoms.
Common triggers include:
- Viral infections, such as the flu and COVID-19. People with moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. For the most up-to-date information on the connection between asthma and COVID-19, visit the CDC's page on asthma and COVID-19.
- Cold air
- Pet dander
- Strong emotions
HAVE AN UP-TO-DATE ASTHMA ACTION PLAN
One of the best ways to keep your or your child’s asthma in check is to have an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan. This is a written plan that you fill out with your doctor or your child's doctor to help control asthma and prevent asthma attacks. You should share this plan with teachers, nurses, and staff at your child’s school, day-care, camp, or other activities. This plan will help them help you or your child manage asthma.
The Vermont Asthma Action Plan lists:
- What type of asthma you have
- Your asthma triggers
- Daily steps on how to manage your asthma and what to do if your asthma worsens or you have an asthma attack
- What medicines to take and when to take them (and if you need help taking them
- When to call the doctor, or in serious cases, go to the emergency room
Secondhand Smoke and Asthma
Smoke of all types, especially tobacco smoke, is a common trigger for people with asthma, especially children and babies. Breathing just a small amount of secondhand smoke can cause a severe asthma attack. Smoke and vapors can also cause asthma. There is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke.
Here are some tips for creating smoke-free environments around people with asthma.
1. Consider quitting smoking or vaping
The most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones with asthma is to quit all forms of smoking and vaping, while encouraging others to follow your lead.
- Quitting is hard for everyone but can be made easier with the help of medications and counseling. Talk to your health care provider.
- Visit 802Quits.org or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free, personalized, confidential quit support and nicotine replacement patches, gum and lozenges. Thousands of Vermonters have found success using these evidence-based phone, online and text services.
2. Don’t smoke in or close to your home.
Have a designated smoking area outdoors where people can smoke. Make sure it is away from the home’s entry area and any common areas in which your family hangs out or plays.
- Place a sealed trash bin in the designated smoking area to collect any cigarette butts or other smoke-related waste.
- Change and store clothes, coats and hats that have been worn when smoking to keep them away from family members and from other items in the home. Ask visitors who smoke to leave their coats and other belongings in the car or outside.
- If you are looking for a new place to live, such as a condo or an apartment, ask about its smoke-free policy. Many multi-united housing buildings have become smoke-free, which offer more protection from exposure.
3. Scents and fragrances only make smoke worse.
Scented candles, air purifiers and air fresheners can be just as risky for people with asthma as smoke— they can trigger asthma, stick to the lungs, and none remove smoke or clear the toxins, they just add another trigger into the air.
- Never use scented candles, air fresheners or air purifiers. In addition to often having toxic ingredients, when combined with tobacco smoke, they can create dangerous combinations for everyone, especially people with asthma.
- Avoid using any personal or home products to mask the smell of smoke, including cleaning products, room sprays, perfumes, scented candles, and toiletries.
4. Cars should always be 100% smoke free.
Avoiding secondhand smoke is nearly impossible when inside a car, even if the windows are down. This is true for humans and pets.
- Remind all passengers that your car is a smoke-free zone. In fact, it’s now illegal to smoke in your car with a child aged 7 or younger.
- If you have any ashtray, fill it with spare change or gum to resist the urge to smoke.
- Store cigarettes and vaping devices in the trunk while on the road and ask the same of your passengers.
- Smoke reduces the resale value of the car.
Vermonters, Take the Smoke-Free Pledge!
Vermonters who smoke or businesses that support maintaining a smoke-free environment can take the Smoke-Free Pledge to demonstrate their commitment to a smoke-free Vermont.
So, what are you waiting for? Take the Pledge
What is asthma and who has it?
Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease in which the lungs become inflamed and airways narrow and react to "triggers”. Asthma can impact anyone.
What causes asthma, or an asthma attack?
It is not clearly known why or how people develop asthma. Research suggests that a combination of family genes and environmental exposures produce asthma.
Asthma can begin in early childhood or may first appear later in life. Not all childhood asthma continues into adulthood.
Family history of asthma, respiratory infections in young children, exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and the first years of life, occupational exposures, house dust mites, air pollution, or cockroach droppings are a few of the things that may lead to asthma. An asthma “trigger” is anything that inflames your airways and flares your symptoms—like tobacco smoke, dust, viral infections, cold weather, pet dander, pests (like cockroaches and mice), pollen and mold and strong fumes.
There are many kinds of triggers, and triggers may be different for different people. Pet dander, tobacco smoke, air pollution, pollens, mold, mildew and dust are common triggers. When the lungs become irritated, the airways swell and mucus builds up, causing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pain or tightness, tiredness or a combination of these symptoms.
What should you do if you think you or a loved one has asthma?
- See your health care provider as soon as possible and talk with them about your symptoms.
- Reduce exposure to common triggers lik dust, mold, and pet hair.
- Monitor your or your loved one’s symptoms closely. If their symptoms become severe, see a doctor.
- Go over your Asthma Action Plan with your provider each year and any time you get a new medicine.
- Know how to properly use your inhaler and spacer. If you have a metered dose inhaler, the Asthma Action plan includes tips that may help you use it correctly. Be sure to ask your health care provider to go over the instructions for your unique inhaler and spacer.
- Remind yourself to take your long-term medicines. You can add reminders on your calendar, email or phone or leave notes in places you see every day (like next to your toothbrush or coffee pot).
- Keep your Asthma Action Plan—and your rescue medicines—with you at all times.
- Keep track of how much medicine is left in your inhaler to make sure you order refills before running out.
- Department of Health Asthma Program
- Vermont 2-1-1 (a free, confidential, 24/7 service to find resources in your community). Dial 2-1-1 from a Vermont phone or visit vermont211.org
- Allergy & Asthma Network
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Asthma Resources for Older Vermonters
Asthma Resources for Parents and Children