Asthma is a complex disease. Researchers believe it occurs
due to a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. They’ve linked
many genes and environmental factors to asthma. Environmental factors are in
large part responsible for asthma exacerbations. With so many potential factors
that can lead to an asthma attack, preventing one can be challenging. Here are
some tips on how to avoid asthma attacks.
triggers and allergens
Breathing in something that triggers inflammation in the
airways can lead to an asthma attack. These attacks are the result of airway
inflammation, which leads to:
- swelling of the lining of the airways
- secretion of mucus
All of these factors cause the airways to become more narrow
and restrict airflow. The best way to prevent asthma attacks is to identify and
avoid these triggers.
Air filtration systems can help rid your home of common asthma triggers,
- dust mites
- other allergens
The best systems use high-efficiency particulate air
filters. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and
Air-Conditioning Engineers, these can clear the air of at least
99.97 percent of pollutants that are as small as 0.3 microns in size. Pollen,
mold, and dust mites are larger than 0.3 microns, but tobacco smoke can be
smaller. You should use air filtration in combination with other methods to control
asthma triggers and your symptoms.
Humidifiers increase moisture level in the air by releasing water
vapor. For some people, adding some moisture to the air can ease asthma
symptoms. However, you should use them carefully or they could make asthma
worse. If too much moisture is in the air, it can encourage dust mite growth.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI)
recommends maintaining a humidity level between 30 to 45 percent to avoid this
You need to clean humidifiers to avoid mold growth. It’s
best to use distilled or demineralized water in your humidifier. High levels of
minerals, as you might find in tap or bottled water, can lead to bacteria
Doctors usually offer immunotherapy for asthma in the form
of allergy shots. These shots contain a small amount of the allergens that can
trigger a person’s asthma. The goal of immunotherapy is to alter your immune
system response, making it less sensitive to these triggers over time. For the
first few months, they usually give the injections once per week. Eventually, you
may get them once per month instead. This can go on for several years until
your immune system is desensitized.
If you can’t avoid allergy triggers, talk to your doctor
about whether immunotherapy may be an option for you.
Asthma medication usually falls into two categories. You’ll
likely have medications that you take on a regular basis to prevent attacks. Another
type of asthma medication is for quick relief. These medications treat an
asthma attack, but taking these at the first sign of asthma symptoms is also
key to preventing attacks.
Asthma medications may come in the form of:
- an inhaler
- a tablet
- a liquid
- a shot
A few of the more common preventive medications include the following:
These act like natural hormones and block inflammation.
While steroids are the strongest drugs for asthma, their long-term side effects
make them less appropriate for regular use.
These medications work by blocking the formation of leukotrienes,
which are substances white blood cells release. Leukotrienes are involved in
Beta-agonists can prevent and treat asthma attacks by
relaxing the muscles that control the airways. This allows you to breathe
easier. They’re also known as bronchodilators.
It's essential to monitor how well your asthma medications
are working by testing your lung function regularly. You can use a handheld
device called a peak flow meter to measure the
amount of air flowing from your lungs. This test can reveal narrowing of the
airways before your symptoms begin.
By comparing your peak flow measurements over time, you can
- what triggers an asthma attack
- when to stop a medication
- when to add a medication
- when to seek emergency medical care
Asthma experts, including those at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention and the American Lung Association, recommend developing
an asthma action plan with your doctor to help control your asthma. The plan
will document important information such as your daily medications, how to
handle asthma attacks, and how to control your asthma symptoms in the long term.
Most plans, including the one you
can print out from the AAAAI, separate asthma symptoms into three
color-coded categories, called zones. These can help you monitor the severity
of your symptoms:
The green zone means you’re doing well. You’re in the green
zone if your peak flow is 80 to 100 percent of your personal best, or you have no
asthma symptoms during the day or night and you’re able to perform casual
The yellow zone means you have worsening asthma. Call your
doctor if you’ve been in this zone for over 24 hours.
You’re in the yellow zone if your peak flow is 50 to 80
percent of your personal best or the following occurs:
- You have symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or
shortness of breath.
- You’re waking up at night due to asthma
- You’re able to perform some but not all normal
- Your symptoms are the same or worse for 24 hours.
If you’re in the red zone, you should get medical help right
away. You’re in the red zone if your
peak flow is less than 50 percent of your personal best or the following
- You’re extremely short of breath.
- Quick-relief medications aren’t helping.
- You’re unable to perform normal activities.