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 is a serious trigger for people with asthma. Tobacco smoke is especially dangerous, because, in addition to irritating the body’s airways, it contains more than 7,000 chemicals—hundreds are toxic and about 70 cause cancer. For people with asthma, especially children, breathing just a small amount of secondhand smoke can trigger a severe attack. There is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke.
What you can do:
Don't smoke in or near your home.
Homes are the main places where everyone, especially children and babies are exposed to secondhand smoke. Smoking in another room, opening a window, or using a fan does not get rid of secondhand smoke. Smoke travels under doors, windows, and through cracks. It also becomes trapped in fabrics, carpet and even on the walls, and can combine with other chemicals to create thirdhand smoke which is just as harmful.
- Remind all guests that yours is a smoke-free home. Hang up a sign if you need to—they are available for free through the Vermont Tobacco Program.
- Create a designated area outside, away from the home’s entryway and any common hangout or play areas.
- Store any clothing you regularly smoke in, like a jacket, separate and away from your family’s items. Smoke stays in your clothing and can irritate one’s asthma even if you are not actively smoking.
- Candles, air purifiers, and air fresheners do not remove smoke toxins. Plus, the combination could make things worse in that scented candles and air fresheners are also an asthma trigger.
- Choose a smoke-free home provider. No matter which type of home or childcare provider or facility you are looking for, from childcare to nursing home placement, ask about its smoke-free policy. Many facilities have become smoke-free in addition to some multi-unit housing buildings which offer more protection from exposure.
Make your car a smoke-free zone.
There’s no way to avoid breathing in toxic tobacco smoke when in an enclosed space like a car, even when a window is down.
- Remind passengers that your car is a smoke-free zone.
- Close or fill your car’s ashtray with spare change or gum to avoid the temptation to smoke.
- Store cigarettes or a vape device in the trunk and out of reach while driving.
The best way to protect yourself and loved ones from secondhand smoke is to quit all forms of tobacco and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Quitting is hard for everyone, and often takes several attempts. Many Vermonters are successful with the help of quit smoking aids, like nicotine gum and lozenges, and confidential and free counseling. Visit 802 Quits for local resources and support.
- 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.
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.
- 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