Asthmatics have extra-sensitive airways which respond wildly to things most people have little or no problem with. These irritant triggers include cigarette smoke, pollution, viruses, exercise and cold air.

Because our breathing pattern also helps to control our temperature, breathing in very cold air is generally not allowed for any length of time. The airways narrow when exposed to cold air and the person then experiences breathing difficulties. Cigarette smoke, cleaning agents or pollution irritate already sensitive airway linings.

Colds and Flus
Upper-respiratory viral infections, such as the flu and the common cold, are another major trigger of asthma symptoms, especially in children. Catching a cold for example, makes the immune system switch on to defend itself against the virus. As part of the defense mechanism body temperature increases, heart beats faster, glands swell, mucus and histamine productions are increased and the airways become inflamed. If this cold develops into a bacterial chest infection, then slight but permanent damage may occur in the airways paving the way for future problems. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics. So antibiotics are rarely needed in the management of asthma. You should focus on recovering from the cold quickly, so it doesn’t turn chesty and provoke asthma. Rest is important to fight a cold or flu.

In some children, the first sign of asthma after following an acute viral infection of the bronchioles, called bronchiolitis.


Record your symptoms to monitor your asthma severity

See your doctor if your asthma gets worse

Drink plenty of clear fluids

Your doctor may increase anti-inflammatory medication to lessen symptoms

Sinusitis is an inflammation or infection of the sinus cavities, which open into the nasal passages. When the linings of the sinus passages become inflamed, mucus production increases and the sinuses cannot drain normally. Postnasal drip and a mild sore throat may result from nasal drainage. Drainage may lead to increased inflammation and twitchiness of the bronchioles.


For people who experience sinus inflammation as well as asthma, identifying and controlling sinusitis can be the key to successful asthma management.

Gastroesophageal Reflux
Gastroesophageal Reflux is more commonly known as heartburn. That’s when acid from your stomach gets into your esophagus, causing a burning behind your breastbone and perhaps even a bitter taste in your mouth if the acid works its way up that high.
It is most often caused by a failure of a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus which normally prevents acid from moving out of the stomach. This is a very common problem in a lot of asthmatics.

That’s where the agreement stops and the debate over whether acid reflux can trigger asthma begins. If true, then it is probably by means of a nerve stimulation from the irritated lower esophagus directly to the airways in the lungs. It does not appear to be due to actually breathing acid into the airways from the esophagus.


It is worth treating even if it doesn’t help the asthma.

Cigarette Smoke
Numerous studies have shown the harmful effects of smoking such as cancer, lung and heart disease. Twenty percent of asthmatics smoke and cigarette smoke is a common irritant. Kicking smoking is one of the first steps an asthmatic or a parent of an asthmatic should take. Research shows that children with asthma whose parents smoke have more asthmatic episodes than children whose parents don’t smoke. Smoking may make your asthma more difficult to control and there is a risk of developing emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

Quitting is difficult but help is available

If family or friends smoke, explain how it affects your asthma and encourage them to smoke elsewhere or give up

If you are out and people are smoking, try to sit in a smoke-free area or near an open window

Exercise is one of the most common triggers of asthma, affecting about 90% of asthmatics. Wheezing, chest tightness, or coughing during or after exercise shows that this may be a trigger. Asthma cause by physical exertion is known as Exercise Induced asthma or EIA. If you want to know more, see the Aspects of Living section.

Exercise intensity should begin at low levels and gradually increase as your fitness improves

Choose an exercise that suits your condition. For example, running tends to produce symptoms more easily than cycling or walking

Avoid exercise if you have any indication of breathing difficulties or are just overcoming an asthhma attack

A good warm up can help reduce an attack, including stretching exercises, jogging or walking to build up fitness

Try to minimize exposure to triggers – wear a mask or scarf when it is cold

Warm down after exercise

If you get asthma when you exercise, stop, rest and take your reliever medication. Make sure you have recovered before you start exercising again