How to Prevent Asthma

Three Parts:Determining Your TriggersAvoiding Your TriggersLiving Healthily with Asthma

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the the lungs and airways that causes difficulty breathing as the airways narrow. Roughly 7,000,000 children are affected by asthma in the United States and it is the most common chronic respiratory disease among children of school age.[1] Asthma can be caused by many different environmental irritants, known as triggers. However, the severity of asthma and its triggers vary widely from individual to individual. Though asthma itself cannot be prevented, you can control certain factors to help reduce the severity and occurrence of symptoms and asthma attacks.[2]

Part 1
Determining Your Triggers

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    Identify your triggers. Many people with asthma can breathe, run and exercise without trouble most of the time—but certain triggers, inside or outside your body, can set off a cascade of symptoms that last from minutes to weeks. When your asthma kicks in, think about what environments you were recently exposed to and try to figure out what is setting you off. This will help you know what to avoid in the future. The most common triggers include:[3][4]
    • Air pollution - Smog and extreme changes in the weather can irritate and greatly increase the number of asthma attacks.
    • Exposure to an allergen - Common allergens include grass, trees, pollen, certain foods, etc). Note that the combination of an allergic reaction along with an asthma attack can be very dangerous and should not be taken lightly.
    • Cold air - Cold air can dry out airways and irritate the respiratory system, causing an onset of asthma
    • Illness - A respiratory infection such as the common cold can dry out the airways and irritate the respiratory system, causing the onset of your asthma.
    • Irritants in the air - Any smoke (from tobacco to wood smoke) can trigger an asthma attack, as can fragrances in the air, like perfumes, colognes and scented aerosols.
    • Dust and mold - Your home environment can be the source of an asthma attack, particularly if mold or dust are present.
    • Stress and strong emotions - If you are overwhelmed by stress or dealing with depression or anxiety, then you may be more susceptible to an asthma attack.[5]
    • Physical activity - Exercise can trigger an asthma attack in some people.[6]
    • Foods that contain sulfites or other preservatives - Some people also have asthma attacks after consuming foods that contain sulfites or other preservatives, such as shrimp, beer, wine, and dried fruit.[7]
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    Keep an asthma diary. If you are having trouble figuring out what causes your asthma to flare up, keep track of your symptoms for several weeks in an asthma diary that details all the environmental, physical and emotional factors you encountered. Grab your diary any time you experience a flareup and document your symptoms, how you felt, and what you did or were exposed to right before the attack.
    • Look for a pattern. If you suspect your asthma is triggered by bodily factors like the flu, track your asthma and other illnesses over the course of a year and see if you can find a correlation.
    • Be consistent. The diary will be most useful if you fill it in as often as possible. If you tend to be absent-minded, set an appointment on your phone or computer to remind you to update it if something eventful has happened.
    • Bring your diary with you to checkups with your doctor, as this can help your doctor craft a proper treatment regimen for you.
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    Monitor your breathing. You should learn to recognize warning signs of an impending attack, such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or chest tightness. It's also a good idea to regularly measure and record your peak airflow with a home peak flow meter since you may not be able to immediately register that your lung function is decreasing.[8]
    • A peak expiratory flow meter is a small device that measures the maximum speed of expiration in order to monitor a person's ability to exhale air. If the measurements range from 50% to 79% of your personal best, this is indicative of an asthma flareup. Regularly measuring and logging your peak flow can help you determine what is normal and thus, what is abnormal for you.
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    Consult a doctor. If your triggers still aren't clear, your pulmonologist, allergist or general practitioner can perform tests to help you discover what sets off your asthma.
    • Allergy testing is not a tool used for general diagnosis of asthma, but it is a useful technique for determining triggers.[9] A number of allergic symptoms can be associated with asthma. The association of asthma with atopy is well documented . Atopy is defined as having IgE antibodies to particular antigens, which means you would have a genetic predisposition towards certain diseases including asthma, rhinitis, and eczema.[10]

Part 2
Avoiding Your Triggers

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    Stay away from dust and mold. These are common asthma triggers, and keeping a clean environment can go a long way in preventing asthma flareups. Make vacuuming and dusting part of your weekly cleaning routine to avoid triggering an asthma attack. To avoid dust mites, use mattress and pillow covers, wash bedding often and avoid quilts that use down feathers.
    • Mold is caused by humidity, so use a hygrometer to check how humid your home environment is. Use a dehumidifier to keep the environment moisture and mold-free. Regularly disinfect showers and other places where moisture can lead to mold growth. If you suspect there is a significant mold problem in your home or work place, get it professionally inspected and removed.
    • Get a HEPA or other type of air filter for your home. You can also use fans and air conditioning to maintain good air circulation.
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    Avoid fragrances and other scents. Some people with asthma are highly sensitive to perfumes. If that's you, don't wear a lot of perfume and try to avoid being around people who wear a lot of perfume. If you must use perfume, use it lightly and try not to inhale it.
    • Avoid using scented candles and air fresheners as well, as scented products can irritate your nasal passages and breathing airways. You can even opt for scent-free laundry detergent.
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    Watch out for air pollution. Studies have shown that cities with high levels of air pollution have much higher asthma rates, especially among children.[11] Smog, car exhaust and other air pollutants can all contribute to asthma.
    • Monitor your local air quality index and avoid exercising or spending too much time outside on bad days. Learn when air quality is best, such as mornings in the summer, and schedule outdoor activities for those times.[12]
    • Filter the air in your home through your air conditioner, instead of opening windows.
    • Avoid living by the highway or a busy intersection. If you can, move to a home that has fresh, dry air.
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    Avoid all smoke. Whether from tobacco, incense, fireworks or anything else, do your best to avoid inhaling smoke. Not only should you not smoke at all, but you should make an effort to avoid being in the presence of other smokers or anything that elicits smoke and can cause your asthma to flare up.
    • Research suggests a clear link between secondhand smoke and asthma, especially in young people. Nearly 26,000 new diagnoses of asthma in children and teens may be due to secondhand smoke.[13]
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    Fend off colds and flu. When your body is focused on dealing with an illness, it has fewer resources to handle other types of diseases. Thus, the combination of a cold/flu with an asthma attack can be very dangerous. When your asthma is triggered by other viruses, minor sniffles can turn into weeks of wheezing and coughing. Take extra precautions to avoid getting sick.
    • Get a seasonal influenza and pneumonia vaccination. The flu isn't fun for anyone, but people with asthma especially should be sure to get a flu shot every year. Consult your primary care physician for more information. Flu vaccines are typically offered from September until mid-November each year.[14][15]
    • Avoid close contact with people who may be contagious. Don't share any food or drink with people who have a cold or the flu. This increases your likelihood of getting sick.
    • Wash your hands often—especially during cold and flu season. Being mindful of germs and maintaining good hygiene can keep you from getting sick.
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    Treat your allergies. If you have allergies that hit your lungs or sinuses, getting them treated can go a long way towards getting your asthma under control as well. Talk to your doctor or allergist about medications and strategies to treat your allergies.[16]
    • Decongestants and antihistamines can be purchased over-the-counter treat some allergy symptoms.
    • Prescription nasal sprays and tablet medications can treat a variety of seasonal allergies.
    • Immune therapy shots can reduce your allergies over the long term by helping your immune system build a tolerance to offending allergens.
    • If you're uncertain about whether you have allergies in the first place, talk to your doctor about a possible allergy test. This test will determine whether you demonstrate reactions to the most common allergic triggers, which can also be unknown triggers for asthma.

Part 3
Living Healthily with Asthma

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    Have an asthma action plan in place. Once you are diagnosed with asthma, create an asthma action plan with your allergist or physician. This plan is basically a step-by-step process of what to do when you face an acute attack. The plan should be written down and include emergency phone numbers as well as those of family and friends who can meet you at the hospital if needed.[17]
    • Having this plan and being in control of your own treatment can make you feel more in control over the illness. You control your asthma, it doesn't control you.
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    Manage your asthma. If you do have asthma, there are a number of prescription drugs that can help you manage your asthma so that attacks become less frequent. There are inhalers for both daily and quick-relief use. Talk to your doctor about finding a medication that works for you.[18]
    • There are two different type of rescue medications that you may have been prescribed: a Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI) or a Dry Powder Inhaler (DPI). MDIs the are most common inhalers. They deliver asthma medication through a small aerosol canister equipped with a chemical propellant that pushes the medication into the lungs. A DPI inhaler means of delivering dry powder asthma rescue medication without propellant. A DPI requires you to breathe in quickly and deeply, which makes them difficult to use during an asthma attack. This makes them less popular than the standard MDIs.
    • Your doctor may also prescribe you a quick relief inhaler, like albuterol, which you are to use during emergencies and flareups. Watch yourself carefully for increasing use of this type of medication. If you find yourself using it more and more often, it means that your asthma is not under control. Seek medical advice from your doctor.[19]
    • Take your medication as prescribed. Just because your asthma seems to be improving doesn't mean that you should stop the medication. Consult your physician before making any changes.
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    Monitor the severity of your asthma symptoms. Asthma treatment is broken down into intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent, and severe persistent disease. The main diagnostic feature between these four categories include nocturnal awakenings. The more severe and frequent the nocturnal awakenings are the more severe the asthma is categorized.[20]
    • Treatment for intermittent asthma includes a short acting beta-agonist medication while treatment for severe disease includes a long term beta-agonist medication with medium dose inhaled glucocorticoids with possible leukotriene inhibitors.
    • Pay attention to your symptoms and consult your doctor if you are having increasing nighttime awakenings and worsening daily symptoms.
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    Reduce your stress. Make an effort to relax yourself as stress, anxiety and emotional upsets can trigger asthma and make it worse. Techniques including yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation may help alleviate your tension and stress and in turn reduce the risk of an asthma flare-up.[21]
    • Focusing on deepening your breath is one way to invoke the relaxation response to stress. Deep breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, which helps to slow the heartbeat and stabilize or even lower blood pressure. Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down. Take a normal breath or two to settle yourself. Then try a deep breath: breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to expand as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Try doing this for several minutes.[22]
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    Quit smoking—or don't start. Smoking cigarettes and similar products, even a little bit, can contribute to asthma and a variety of other severe health problems. Quitting smoking isn't easy, but doing so will have a dramatic positive effect on your health.[23]
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    Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can contribute to asthma and makes it more difficult to control existing asthma with exercise. If you are overweight, get yourself on a diet and exercise plan that will get you into a healthy range. Whether someone is overweight or obese is determined by using the body mass index (BMI), an indicator of body fatness. BMI is a person's weight in kilograms (kg) divided by the square of the person's height in meters (m). A BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight, while a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese.[24][25]
    • Reduce the number of calories you intake and increase the amount of exercise you do. This is the secret to weight loss.[26]
    • Watch portion sizes and make a concerted effort to eat slowly, savor and chew your food and stop eating when you are full. Remember that you just need to feel satiated, not stuffed to the brim.
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    Exercise. Research has shown that exercise has a positive impact on asthma and should be done as tolerated. Exercise can decrease the severity of asthma symptoms, although you need to be cautious to consider your asthma when planning an exercise regimen. If you have exercise-triggered asthma, be careful about exercising in cold or overly dry or humid environments. Activities that are better for people who suffer from exercise-induced asthma (EIB) include swimming, cycling, hiking and walking.[27][28]
    • Yoga is a good option for asthmatics because it both increases fitness and helps you learn to regulate and become more aware of your breath.[29]
    • If you want to play team sports, consider those with short bursts of activity (like baseball or football), rather than sports with longer spurts of activity like soccer, long-distance running or basketball.[30]
    • Use your inhaler if you are worried your workout is going to bring on an attack. In fact, it's a good idea to always bring your inhaler with you wherever you go, just in case – and this includes the gym or outdoors.


  • Treat attacks and symptoms early. Coughing and wheezing will just inflame your airways further if you don't nip symptoms in the bud. Learn to recognize the onset of an attack or flare-up and take immediate action. Although signs and symptoms of an asthma attack vary depending on the person, the most common symptoms include wheezing or whistling while breathing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.[31][32]
  • Bring your children to farms to build up their immune response. Exposure to the plethora of farm microbes in early life can help to protect children against the development of allergies and asthma [33].


  • There are no over-the-counter medications approved to treat asthma. All individuals diagnosed with asthma should have an emergency plan and carry their inhaler with them at all times.

Sources and Citations

  1. Domino, F. (n.d.). The 5-minute clinical consult standard 2015 (23rd ed.).
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Categories: Asthma