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Asthma and COPD: Controlling Other Triggers

Many things can trigger symptoms in people with breathing conditions such as asthma or COPD. They may be allergens such as mold, pollens, or dust. Or they may be irritants such as smoke or strong odors. You may find things that trigger symptoms but aren’t allergens or irritants. These include weather changes, illness, stress, and exercise. The tips below can help to ease your symptoms.

Weather

Some weather can trigger symptoms. Or it can make other triggers worse.

  • Keep track of weather conditions that affect you. Very high or low temperatures, or high humidity, can make symptoms worse. For some people, major changes in weather can be a trigger.

  • Limit outdoor activity during the type of weather that affects you.

  • Wear a scarf over your mouth and nose in cold weather.

Colds, flu, and sinus infections

Closeup of hands in sink with running water.

Illnesses that affect the nose, throat, and sinuses can irritate your lungs. These are called upper respiratory infections. They can cause asthma flare-ups. To prevent these:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and clean, running water. Or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

  • Get a yearly flu shot. Ask your healthcare provider if you should get the pneumonia vaccine.

  • Take care of your general health. Get plenty of sleep. And eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.

Food additives

Food additives can trigger asthma flare-ups in some people.

  • Check food labels for sulfites, metabisulfites, and sulfur dioxide. These are often found in foods such as wine, beer, and dried fruits.

  • Don't eat foods that have these additives if they trigger your asthma.

Medicines

Some medicines may cause symptoms in some people with asthma. These include:

  • Aspirin

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen

  • Some beta-blockers

Make sure to:

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you think certain medicines trigger symptoms.

  • Read the labels on over-the-counter medicines. They may have ingredients that cause symptoms for you.

Emotions

Laughing, crying, feeling excited, or feeling stressed are triggers for some people.

  • Try this breathing exercise to stay calm:

    • Start by breathing in slowly through your nose for 2 seconds.

    • Then close your lips and breathe out for 4 seconds.

  • Try to focus on a soothing image in your mind. This will help relax you and calm your breathing.

  • Remember to take your daily controller medicines. When you are upset or under stress, it’s easy to forget.

Exercise

For some people, exercise can trigger symptoms. Don’t let this stop you from being active. Exercise is good for your overall health and your lung health. It strengthens the heart and blood vessels. It may lower your sensitivity to triggers. These tips and your healthcare provider's advice can help:

  • If you have not been exercising regularly, start slowly. You can build up to more exercise.

  • Take all of your medicines as prescribed.

  • Make sure you have your quick-relief medicine with you when you exercise if you use this medicine. 

  • Ask your provider if you should take your quick-relief medicine before you exercise.

  • Stop exercising if you have any symptoms. Most people with asthma that's under control should be able to exercise without asthma symptoms. Talk with your provider about your asthma symptoms during exercise.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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