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5 Common Asthma Triggers

  • by Laura Flynn McCarthy


    More than half of current asthma cases are due to allergies, and of those, about one third are caused by cat allergies (sorry, Fluff!). Pollen, ragweed, mold, dust mites, and grasses are the other biggies.

    The work-around: It's all about limiting exposure. "Our son, Thomas, started coughing all the time after we moved into a new home," says Eleanor Garrow-Majka of Fairfax, VA, mom of the 6-year-old and a project manager for the Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (check out the site at "We found out that the family who lived there prior to us had a cat. We removed the carpet, washed the floors, washed and repainted the walls, and had the heating and air-conditioning vents cleaned. We change his air filter monthly. Except for really bad pollen days, Thomas hasn't been sick since." But if your child's allergies can't be controlled by removing the allergens, consider allergy shots. The therapy requires commitment and a lot of sticks (one or two shots a week to start), but it can keep many kids nearly asthma-symptom—free.

  • Exercise
    Running can trigger symptoms in more than 80 percent of children with asthma. The physical exertion means faster breathing, usually through the mouth, and that means lots of colder-than-usual air rushes through the lungs (normally, air is warmed and humidified by the nose).

    The work-around: Use medication before physical activity—because it's still really important for kids with exercise-induced asthma to move. Children who are overweight or obese are 50 percent more likely to have symptoms, research shows.

  • Infections
    Most illnesses that set off attacks in children are from viruses, most commonly colds but also the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

    The work-around: Be shot smart. The flu, in particular, can trigger a severe attack, so be sure your kids over 6 months get their annual vaccination.

  • Irritants
    All kinds of perfumey products, including your fragrance and scented candles and cleaning products, as well as cigarette smoke, can set off symptoms. Studies suggest that children of smokers are twice as likely to develop breathing problems as those of nonsmokers.

    The work-around: As with allergens, do your best to help your child avoid the ones she's sensitive to. As for the smoke exposure, we know the research is guilt-trippy. And we know it's damn hard to quit. So if you want help, you can also find loads of support at our community.

  • Weather
    Cold air is the biggest offender; it can trigger constriction, exactly what these kids don't need. But as the summer approaches, air pollution, high pollen counts, and ozone are common instigators.

    The work-around: Stay inside. Of course, that's a lot easier to do when it's chilly. So if air pollution or ozone is an irritant for your child, stay on top of local levels at On days they are predicted to be high, plan your outside time for early in the day, when levels tend to be at their lowest. And as things heat up, try to head somewhere with air-conditioning.