Understand These Common Asthma Triggers & How to Avoid Them
The leaders in respiratory health knowledge, the Asthma & Respiratory Foundation, teach us common triggers for asthma and – crucially – how to avoid them
Reading Time: 3.5 minutes
Asthma is a common New Zealand illness, but it’s scary when it affects the child you care for. The good news is that asthma can be well managed.
(If you haven’t already, you may find it helpful to learn what asthma is, and it’s symptoms.)
We now know that asthma is the body’s response to a trigger that causes someone’s airways to become narrow. The triggers can be different for different people, but there are some that are very common. Some of the asthma triggers, like pollen and pet fur, contain allergens. Allergens are tiny substances that are usually harmless, but they can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Below we explore some common triggers for asthma along with some suggestions for how you can help your child avoid them.
If you like, you could talk to other people who know your child well (such as a kindy teacher) about possible triggers they’ve noticed too.
Colds & flu
How to avoid this trigger: All children get colds. When this happens, watch carefully for signs of asthma. Be ready to change your child’s medicine if required – you should have an asthma action plan and if you don’t be sure to see your child’s doctor straight away.
Make sure your child is immunised in autumn each year. The flu vaccination is free to all children who are on preventative asthma medication.
Keep your child’s environment auahi kore (smokefree). There’s lots of help if you want to give up smoking. Start with your doctor or nurse or try Quitline. You can call Quitline on 0800 778 778 or text 4006 for free advice and non-judgmental support to quit smoking.
Cold dry air
Keep your child warm and dry and use a scarf to cover their mouth and nose. Encourage your child to warm the air by breathing in through their nose instead of their mouth. If their nose is usually blocked, discuss this with your doctor.
Stress & anxiety
Do what you’re already doing to keep your child strong and healthy through proper rest, good food, exercise, and taking the time to talk through any worries. Relaxed breathing reduces stress and anxiety.
Try to keep your house warm, dry, and well aired. Vent your laundry dryer to the outside and use extractor fans in the kitchen and bathroom. If possible, use a dehumidifier. Treat any mould with diluted household bleach, but be careful not to breathe in the fumes.
The pollen in some plants
Pollen is a common trigger, especially in summer and in the early morning and evening. Try to keep outdoor activities for the early afternoon. Close windows when it is windy or humid. Choose pretty, brightly coloured plants for the garden that use insects to transfer their pollen, instead of the wind.
Cats and other furry pets
Don’t get a pet without first checking whether your child is allergic to it. If you can’t avoid having a furry pet, talk to your vet about how to keep it well groomed. If you go to a house where there is a furry pet, ask for the pet to be put outside. Your child should never sleep in a room with a pet.
If you move into a house that has had a pet, you will need to clean it thoroughly. It can take three to four months of regular deep cleaning to get rid of all the allergens.
All houses have some dust mites, but there are ways you can keep them down. For example, you can: vacuum each week using a vacuum cleaner with a good filter system
- wash bed linen weekly in hot water
- wash soft toys in hot water or freeze them for 72 hours
- air bed linen and rugs in the sun
- keep your house light and well-aired
- dust with a damp cloth
Exercise is good for everybody, including people with asthma! However, it can trigger asthma, especially when the air is cold and dry. Check out our page about how your child can exercise safely and happily [link will come when page is done on this].
And an unusual asthma trigger is…
Food! Very few children are allergic to food like cow’s milk, wheat, seafood, eggs, soy, and peanuts. But if you think a food is triggering your child’s asthma, visit your health provider. There are simple tests the health provider can run to check whether food is the problem. If it is, your health provider can suggest other healthy foods to replace it.
You can’t always avoid triggers – and that’s ok
You know your child better than anyone. You can use your knowledge to help your child avoid the triggers for their asthma. Your child won’t always be able to avoid their triggers, but by knowing what they are, you can help manage them.
Most kids will be exposed to triggers like exercise, animals, and grass, and sometimes that will mean their asthma plays up. There’s no need to feel guilty that your child with asthma is living a normal life.