If you’re among the millions of American asthmatics, you probably know strenuous exercise, cold air, dust mites, pollen, mold, tobacco smoke and pet dander can aggravate your asthma. However, you may be surprised what uncommon conditions can trigger wheezing, cough, shortness of breath and chest pain or tightness. Manage this long-term, chronic lung disease by determining if any of these unexpected triggers contribute to airway constriction and inflammation. Avoid them if possible to reduce asthma flares while continuing your asthma prescriptions.
Before we launch into the interesting causes, be aware that asthma is a treatable condition. Treatment options are available to asthma sufferers, despite the cause.
Long-term asthma controller. An oral inhalation aerosol like Flovent reduces airway inflammation to help prevent asthma symptoms before they start. Regular usage may reduce your rescue inhaler need.
Fast-acting bronchodilator. Always have a rescue inhaler, like albuterol, on hand to provide fast relief of sudden asthma symptoms.
Health Conditions and Medications
Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These conditions can cause chest pain, especially when you lie down. However, even if you don’t experience heartburn, they can spark asthma flares. When acid backs up, it causes a hyperreaction in your airways. Recognizing acid reflux as an asthma trigger can be difficult. When you do, relieve your reflux instead of your asthma symptoms.
Pain relievers and fever reducers. If you’re sensitive to aspirin like 10 percent of adult asthmatics, it can worsen your symptoms. You’re more likely to have an asthma attack after taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen. People who took acetaminophen at young ages develop asthma frequently.
Extreme Emotional and Stressful States
Laughing and crying. Intense emotional outbursts like riotous laughter and uncontrollable crying change your breathing patterns and restrict airflow. Like exercise, these forms of hyperventilation can trigger asthma symptoms when you have underlying inflammation.
Stress. Overwhelming stress can tighten your chest. Relax so your shortness of breath doesn’t become an asthmatic episode.
Air fresheners. While indoor air fresheners can make your home smell more pleasant and inviting, they can worsen your asthma. About 34 percent of asthmatics and 20 percent of the general population report air-freshener-related health problems. Doctors warn that even all-natural products can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). At high concentrations, formaldehyde, limonene, esters and alcohols can cause respiratory tract and eye irritation, headaches and dizziness.
Candles. These mood setters are a triple threat to asthmatics. Candles release VOCs into the air. Like perfumes, their scents may be irritating. Lit candles often produce smoke, one of the most common asthma triggers.
Nutritional fuel. Food-triggered asthma is unusual; it affects under two percent of asthmatic adults. While food allergies may trigger asthma in a limited number of people, not everyone with food allergies also has asthma. Scientific investigation has found that asthma-triggering foods include eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and wheat.
Sulfites and sulfiting agents. When food preparers and processers add these as preservative agents, you’ll find them on food labels. Watch out for sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite and sodium sulfite. Common food sources include dried fruits and vegetables, some packaged and prepared potatoes, bottled lemon and lime juice, shrimp (fresh, frozen and prepared) and pickled foods (pickles, relishes, peppers and some sauerkraut).
Outdoor Air Pollution
Motor vehicle emissions. Exhaust systems emit unhealthy chemicals, fumes and byproducts. A 2013 MIT study reported that vehicle emissions cause 53,000 premature U.S. deaths annually.
Ozone pollution (smog). Invisible ozone gas, the most widespread U.S. pollutant, also is one of the most dangerous. It attacks lung tissue aggressively by reacting with it chemically.
Particle pollution (road dust and soot). Very fine particles can deeply penetrate your lungs and inflame your circulatory system. This damages cells and causes respiratory problems.
Thunderstorms. Emergency rooms treat significantly more asthma patients after thunderstorms. Some experts believe they can generate ozone. An Allergy journal study reported that wind during thunderstorms propels pollen grains at ground level to enter and irritate the lower part of your airways.
Rain and wind. Rainfall can stir up increased mold spores while wind can blow around pollen and mold.
Air pressure fluctuations.Barometric pressure initiates sinus episodes. Sinusitis is a common asthma symptom trigger.
Heat. Summer heat increases exhaust fumes, ozone and pollutants that may incite an asthmatic response.
Foods and Additives
Nitrates. Processed meats that are high in nitrates bother some asthma sufferers.
Milk. Cow’s milk irritates some asthmatics. Cold milk may cause you to cough because of the temperature. If you’re allergic to milk, it may trigger symptoms similar to asthma.
Alcohol. Drinking certain alcoholic beverages, mainly wine and beer, can worsen your asthma symptoms and increase your flare risk. Some people suspect sulfites cause red itchy eyes, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing and upset stomach. Conversely, the ethanol in hard liquor relaxes airways and improves asthma. You may be allergic to the alcohol or other ingredients. Even if you aren’t allergic, alcohol can worsen existing allergy symptoms, mainly food allergies.