Understanding Asthma Triggers

Triggers are things that cause you to have asthma symptoms. Some triggers you can stay away from completely. Others you can plan for and adjust to. Use this sheet to help you know your triggers.

Man holding a small dog.

What are triggers?

Triggers bother your lungs and lead to asthma flare-ups. They include:

  • Irritants, such as tobacco smoke or air pollution. These are a concern for all people with asthma.

  • Allergens or substances that cause allergies, like pets, dust mites, or pollen.

  • Special conditions. These include having a cold or the flu or being in certain kinds of weather. These differ from person to person.

  • Exercise. If exercise is one of your triggers, you can learn how to exercise safely.

What triggers your asthma?

Which of these common triggers cause your asthma to flare up? Check all that apply to you.


☐ Tobacco smoke (smoking or secondhand smoke)

☐ Smoke from fireplaces

☐ Vehicle exhaust

☐ Smog or air pollution

☐ Aerosol sprays

☐ Strong odors, such as perfume, incense, or cooking odors

☐ Household cleaners, such as ammonia or bleach


☐ Cats

☐ Dogs

☐ Birds

☐ Dust or dust mites

☐ Pollen

☐ Mold

☐ Cockroach droppings

Other triggers:

☐ Cold air

☐ Hot air

☐ Weather changes

☐ Exercise

☐ Certain foods or food ingredients (such as sulfites)

☐ Medicines such as aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and beta-blockers

☐ Emotions such as laughing, crying, or feeling stressed

☐ Illnesses or other health problems, such as colds, the flu, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and sinus infections

Allergies and allergy treatment

People with asthma often have allergies. If you have allergies, or think you have them, talk with your healthcare provider about testing and treatment. Allergy testing can find out exactly which allergens affect you. Types of tests include:

  • Skin tests. A small amount of each allergen is put on the skin. Sites are then looked at for an allergic reaction. This could be redness, swelling, or itching. Often, the greater the reaction, the stronger the allergy.

  • Blood tests. A blood test can show sensitivity to the allergen.

Exposing a person to larger amounts of an allergen over time can help the body build up a tolerance. This is the goal of allergy shots (immunotherapy). For this therapy, shots are given over a period of years. At first, you get the shots with a very small amount of allergen about once a week. As time goes on, the amount of allergen is slowly increased to a certain level. Eventually, you have the shots less often. This therapy can take up to a year to start working. But it can work very well to manage certain allergies over time.

There are also medicines that work like allergy shots. These are taken by mouth.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2019
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