Asthma Triggers

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Topic Overview

An asthma trigger is a factor that can lead to sudden difficulty breathing or other symptoms of asthma ( asthma attack ).

Some triggers are substances a person may be allergic to ( allergens ). Allergens cause the body's natural defenses ( immune system ) to produce chemicals called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These chemicals bind to allergens, causing inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs. The allergen may also cause asthma attacks. These triggers include:

Other triggers can cause asthma symptoms without affecting the body's immune system. These include:

  • Cigarette smoke and air pollution.
  • Viral infections, such as colds and influenza , and sinus and other upper respiratory infections .
  • Exercise. Many people with asthma have symptoms when they exercise.
  • Dry, cold air.
  • Medicines, such as aspirin or beta-blockers.
  • In adults, hormones, including those involved in pregnancy and menstrual periods (just before or during periods).
  • Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) . Some experts debate whether GERD makes asthma worse. Studies have shown conflicting results as to whether GERD triggers asthma. footnote 1

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  1. Gibson PG, et al. (2003). Gastro-esophageal reflux treatment for asthma in adults and children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1). Oxford: Update Software.

Other Works Consulted

  • Guarnieri M, Balmes JR (2014). Outdoor air pollution and asthma. Lancet, 383(9928): 1581–1592. DOI 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60617-6. Accessed May 6, 2014.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Lora J. Stewart, MD - Allergy and Immunology

Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014

Current as of: September 9, 2014