Welcome to part two of our series “What’s Triggering My Asthma?” where we explore asthma triggers with Exhale’s medical advisors, Paul Detjen, M.D. Here, Dr. Detjen provides insight into reasons why your asthma may be triggered.

If you believe you are experiencing an “asthma attack” we strongly recommend that you call your physician or 911.

Determining asthma triggers is an important step in treating your asthma effectively.

Determining your asthma triggers is an important step towards minimizing your asthma symptoms.

Are these things asthma triggers for you?

#1. Irritants

Irritants such as smoke, chemicals, perfume, paint fumes, etc. tend to trigger those who have asthma, at exposure levels markedly lower than those at which people who do not have asthma would begin to develop symptoms.

This means that some patients with asthma are more likely to react badly to mild environmental stimuli. For instance, when a co-worker is wearing heavy perfume or cologne. Air pollution is also especially difficult for those with asthma. Keeping your asthma inflammation under control will help lessen irritant sensitivity.

#2. NSAIDs

Aspirin and similar pain medications, called NSAIDs, can cause unexpected and severe asthma attacks in some people with asthma (especially for those who have nasal polyps).

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a substitute for patients who react badly to NSAIDs. However, many over-the-counter medications contain aspirin-like products, including some cold medicines, so make sure to carefully read the labels of all non-prescription medications.

#3 Sinusitis

Sinusitis is known to affect those with asthma, however, the relationship between asthma and sinusitis is not yet completely understood.

Chronic sinus inflammation and sinus infection can cause worsening asthma symptoms, often without any other symptoms. Eradicating ‘silent’ sinusitis, however, can significantly reduce asthma symptoms. Unfortunately, many patients do not know that their chronic asthma symptoms are being caused by undiagnosed sinusitis.


GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux), often referred to simply as reflux can result in coughing or airway muscle spasms which manifest similarly to asthma.

Heartburn is often a symptom of reflux, but it is not always present and many patients are unaware of the condition.

#5 Emotional Instability.

Emotional stress can cause asthma-like symptoms in some patients who have asthma and chest tightness caused by anxiety can sometimes mimic an ‘asthma’ attack. Stress alone, however, will not bring on airway inflammation.

#6 Workplace Environment.

Occupational asthma is a well-documented phenomenon that can affect many kinds of workers. There are over 200 occupations that are known to place workers at risk of developing asthma symptoms.

There are two types of occupational asthma as described by the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety:

  • Sensitizer-induced asthma – caused by sensitization (reaction) to a substance.
  • Irritant-induced asthma (also called reactive airways dysfunction syndrome, or RADS) which is caused by one specific, high-level exposure.

Occupational asthma can be treated by decreasing exposure to irritants, and through medical treatment, although decreasing exposure is preferred.

Thanks for joining us in figuring out what’s triggering your asthma. Want to find out more? We’d love to help you figure out what’s triggering your asthma. Completing an Exhale analysis will help you know for sure.

Would you like to share your asthma or allergy story and inspire other parents? Share your family’s journey updates with us across social media! Find us on Twitter @ExhaleWithUs and on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you!

Dr Paul Detjen
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