What Are the Most Common Allergic Asthma Triggers?

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What Are the Most Common Allergic Asthma Triggers?
© RealPeopleGroup / Getty Images Allergic asthma triggers can include pollen, pet dander, dust, and more.

You may think of asthma as one health condition that can seriously mess with your health. But the different types of asthma aren’t created equal, as each one has a unique set of triggers that can set off unpleasant side effects. Allergic asthma is no different—but knowing your allergic asthma triggers can make all the difference between living your life as you normally would and struggling with an enemy that’s just waiting to ruin your day.

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That’s because any form of asthma causes the muscles around your airways to tighten in the midst of an attack, which is known as bronchoconstriction, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This leads to narrowing of your airways, and boom—you suddenly have a really hard time breathing.

Allergic asthma is, you guessed it, an allergic reaction to something in your environment. More than 25 million people in the U.S. deal with asthma—and allergic asthma is the most common type, affecting roughly 60% of those people, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

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Doing your best to avoid your known allergens can make all the difference in preventing asthma symptoms before they start, but that can sometimes be easier said than done. Here’s what you need to know about how to identify allergic asthma triggers, and how that can help you on the road to the best treatment plan.

Allergic asthma symptoms | Allergic asthma causes | Common allergic asthma triggers | Treatment based on triggers

What are the symptoms of allergic asthma?

Allergic asthma symptoms are similar to those of other forms of asthma—they just have a different trigger, according to the AAFA. So, what does allergy-induced asthma feel like? The symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Coughing frequently, especially at night
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Fatigue

How can allergies cause asthma?

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On a very basic level, allergic asthma is asthma that’s triggered by allergens, Catherine Monteleone, M.D., an allergist-immunologist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells SELF. But, of course, it’s a little more in-depth than that, and understanding what makes both allergies and asthma happen can help you better grasp the ins and outs of this condition.

First, asthma is a condition that impacts your airways, those tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). When your asthma is triggered by something, your airways become inflamed and can narrow, making it hard or uncomfortable to breathe normally.

Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to an outside substance—common ones include pollen and pet dander—or food, according to the Mayo Clinic. Whenever your immune system recognizes something as a foreign invader, it produces antibodies to help your body fight off that perceived attacker in the future. In the case of allergies, your immune system makes antibodies to allergens that aren’t actually harmful to your body. So, when you come into contact with that allergen in the future, it triggers the immune response responsible for a whole host of symptoms.

It’s important to note that it’s possible to have allergies and not have asthma, and to have asthma and not have allergies, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). But some people have allergy-induced asthma, which is also known as allergic asthma.

What are the most common allergic asthma triggers?

Dr. Monteleone says the best way to identify your allergic asthma trigger (or triggers) is to get tested by a board-certified allergist. There are plenty of possible allergens that can spur your asthma symptoms, but these are the most common ones:

Pet dander

Find yourself reaching for your inhaler any time you’re around a furry or feathery friend? You could be allergic to animal dander, which is microscopic skin particles, saliva proteins, and urine or feces that comes from pets, typically cats, dogs, rodents, or birds, according to the American Lung Association. Because these substances are so tiny, they can hang out in the air for long periods of time and easily stick to fabrics on clothing and furniture.

Worth noting: The AAFA points out that there’s no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” cat or dog, which are typically short-haired. That’s because any animal with fur is more prone to carrying other allergens (like dust), so the fur alone isn’t the only possible trigger. If you have allergic asthma that’s triggered by these pets, it’s important to take that into account before actually getting one or being around one.

Pollen

Pollen is a fine, powdery substance that stems from plants, and it’s one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies, according to the AAFA. Pollen tends to blow around in the spring, summer, and fall, winding up practically everywhere outdoors (including in the air you breathe). This can cause major allergic asthma symptoms in people who are susceptible, Dr. Monteleone says. The most common types of pollen that trigger allergic asthma are from grasses and weeds like ragweed, sagebrush, lamb’s quarters, and tumbleweed, as well as certain trees like birch, cedar, and oak.

Mold

Mold—fungi that produce nonvisible spores that are released throughout the air—can lurk indoors or outside. Mold tends to thrive in warm, moist environments, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). That can make summer and fall particularly difficult seasons for people whose asthma symptoms are triggered by mold. Mold can pose a problem inside your home as well, especially in areas that tend to be damp, like basements or bathrooms.

Dust mites

You can’t see dust mites, but they can set off your allergic asthma symptoms. In fact, they may be the most common trigger of allergies and asthma that occur year-round, the AAFA says. These teeny, spider-shaped creatures (*shivers*) live in places like mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. They survive by eating pet dander or skin flakes that humans naturally shed. Both the dust mites and their poop can trigger allergic asthma in some people.

Cockroaches

Cockroaches can lurk in many homes and buildings—they love warm places that provide food and water, like kitchens and bathrooms. Whether you physically see them or not (as they’re notoriously sneaky and most active at night), roaches can trigger allergic asthma symptoms. Their body parts, saliva, and poop contain a protein1 that is a common year-round allergen for many people, according to the AAFA.

Non-allergic asthma triggers to note

Even though the triggers above are the most common source of allergic asthma symptoms, the condition can also feel worse due to things that cause non-allergic asthma2, like viral respiratory infections, exercise, irritants in the air (such as strong disinfectants, heavy fragrances like perfume, tobacco smoke, or air pollution), stress, drugs, certain food additives, and even the weather, according to the ACAAI.

How are allergic asthma treatments tailored based on triggers?

If you suspect that you have allergic asthma, it’s important to meet with a board-certified allergist to get a proper diagnosis first, Priya Patel, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at Penn Medicine, tells SELF. “The allergist can do testing, which may consist of skin testing or blood testing, to help identify allergens that may be triggering asthma,” she explains. “They can then provide tips for how to avoid those allergens.”

From there, you and your doctor can come up with a proper treatment plan that will also include what’s known as an asthma action plan. This plan includes advice on what you should be doing on a regular basis when you’re feeling well, as well as which medications you should use when you have an allergic asthma attack, Dr. Patel explains. For long-term care, immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots) is a great tool that helps desensitize your body to specific allergens over time, helping to gradually minimize symptoms.

Your doctor should also talk to you about lifestyle modifications you can make to try to avoid or minimize your triggers, Evan Li, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine, tells SELF. Here’s a basic breakdown, based on the common triggers:

  • Pet dander allergy: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s probably best to avoid getting a pet. If you happen to already have one or still really want a furry friend in your life, Dr. Li recommends that you wash and groom them regularly—and keep them out of your bedroom. Otherwise, you can end up repeatedly breathing in heavy amounts of dander while you sleep, aggravating your symptoms.
  • Pollen allergy: Keep your windows closed during peak allergy season. “Keep your yard mowed and maintained, and trees trimmed to control allergen burden,” Dr. Li says. If you’re able to have someone else mow your grass for you, that’s also a good idea, he says.
  • Mold allergy: Try to remove any standing water around your home or leaks within your home, which can serve as a breeding ground for mold. You’ll also want to keep tabs on the humidity of your home—a dehumidifier can help if levels are high—and repair and clean any areas that are contaminated by mold. Another tip, per Dr. Li: Have your AC and heating ducts checked for mold.
  • Dust mite allergy: You’ll want to reduce the humidity in your home and purchase dust mite-proof covers for your mattress and pillows. It’s a good idea to wash your bed sheets and comforter in hot water regularly (at least once a week). If you can, remove carpeting and replace it with hardwood, laminate, or tile. If that’s not an option, Dr. Li suggests getting a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and running it on your carpets once a week.
  • Cockroach allergies: Remove water or foods that may be loose and store them in places where cockroaches can’t have access to them, Dr. Li advises. If you have an infestation, call an exterminator for professional help.

Bottom line: Understanding your allergic asthma triggers—and learning how to avoid them—is a big part of treatment.

Dealing with an allergic reaction to something is never fun, especially when it involves respiratory symptoms like those associated with asthma. Even if you think it’s just seasonal allergies, be sure to bring up any potential signs of asthma to your doctor, so you can start a treatment plan that tackles the issue head-on. 

Sources:

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