Reviewed by David Tinkelman, MD

Airways of people with asthma are often chronically inflamed (swollen). Therefore, the airways are sensitive to things that make asthma worse. These, either individually or together, are the triggers that cause symptoms in people with asthma. Identifying and controlling or treating factors and conditions that make asthma worse - and vary from person to person - is essential to good asthma management. It is helpful to think about your last asthma episode - did you experience any of the situations described in this information? Discuss this information with your healthcare provider.


Substances found in the environment can irritate sensitive airways. Common ones include smoke (such as tobacco smoke and smoke from wood-burning or kerosene stoves and fireplaces), aerosol sprays, strong odors (like perfumes, cologne and gasoline fumes), dust, and air pollution. Cigarette smoke is a particularly serious asthma trigger - if you have asthma, do not allow smoking in your home or car and always look for non-smoking sections in public areas.


A variety of allergens can make asthma symptoms worse, but it is important to note that not all people with asthma have allergies. Reliable and valid allergy tests are available, and a board-certified allergist can guide you through this process. Common allergens include animal dander, saliva and urine from feathered or furry animals, dust mites (a major component of house dust in humid climates), cockroaches, mold, pollen, foods and medications.

If you are allergic to any of these substances, making changes in your environment to control or avoid contact with the allergen is very important. It is also important to know what allergens are in your home and how they can be the cause of your attacks. This can be achieved with a home allergen testing kit. Ask your healthcare provider about environmental control and read more about the relationship of allergies to asthma.


Infections can also make asthma worse. Common cold viruses, respiratory infections, sinusitis, and influenza frequently cause an increase of asthma symptoms. As a result, your healthcare provider may recommend an annual flu vaccination.


Exercise or physical activity can make asthma worse - and for some, it may be the only cause of asthma symptoms. However, exercise is important for everyone and should not be avoided. Read more about exercise-induced asthma.


There are certain types of weather that may cause problems for some people with asthma in any climate. Some weather situations that may make asthma symptoms worse include extremely hot or cold temperatures, windy conditions, and changes in the humidity or barometric pressure.


Emotions do not cause asthma, but can make asthma worse because strong feelings can lead to changes in breathing patterns. Times of "good" stress and "bad" stress can cause problems for people with asthma. However, it is important to express your emotions, and good asthma management can minimize the effect of stress.


Changes in Breathing Patterns
Sneezing, laughing, stress, holding your breath, and sleep disorders may cause changes in breathing patterns, which may make asthma worse. It is not always possible or desirable to avoid these situations; however, good asthma management may minimize these effects.

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