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Types of Asthma Triggers

Types of Asthma Triggers

Asthma is one of the most common diseases in the UK, with over 5.4 million people receiving regular treatment for asthma in the UK. Over 1,000 deaths a year can be attributed to asthma attacks, with attacks hospitalising someone, on average, every 8 minutes.

Despite these dangers, the types of asthma triggers are rarely known, even by those who suffer from the disease. Knowing the causes of an asthma attack can be critical for helping to treat it, particularly for types of asthma that have outside irritants such as:

Allergic Triggers

The single most common type of triggers are allergens. Allergens (the irritants that your body is extra sensitive to) are everywhere, so it is important to know what you are allergic to. The most common types of allergens are pollen, mould spores, animal dander and insect faeces.

For severe cases, doctors may prescribe medication to treat allergy based triggers, usually an antihistamine tablet. This medication prevents or reduces the release of histamines in your body, which is the chemical that causes allergic reactions.


A nocturnal trigger is a serious and difficult trigger to suffer from. As the name suggests, this trigger comes about at night, whilst sleeping and can be very dangerous for those who suffer from it. Characterised by a chest tightness, shortness of breath and night-time cough, it can make sleep patterns painful for those suffering from it.

A night-time attack can catch someone when they are alone, vulnerable and without easy access to their medicine. For this reason asthma sufferers who find their symptoms growing worse as the evening progresses, or if they have ever had a night-time attack, should see their doctor immediately.

It is unclear why nocturnal attacks occurs, though it is believed to be related to an increased exposure to allergens, the cooling of the airways or even the reclining position. Whilst there is no cure, daily asthma medication, such as the use of ventolin, have been shown to be very effective at reducing inflammation.

Exercise Induced Asthma

This form of asthma trigger is brought on by prolonged or vigorous exercise. Though it does affect those who already have asthma, there are many who only develop this form of asthma during exercise periods.

During exercise, cold air is rapidly taken in through the mouth, instead of being warmed through the nasal passages as it normally is. This can lead to a narrowing of the airways in certain people whose airways are sensitive to the change in temperature.

Attacks from this trigger are more likely to occur during colder weather, so it is recommended that suffers from this trigger dress appropriately during the winter months, particularly with a scarf. Alternatively, exercising indoors or doing less vigorous exercises can help prevent asthma attacks.

Symptoms if EIA usually begin with ten minutes of the start of exercise and include:

  • Coughing
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

However, suffering from asthma should not prevent regular exercise. Many athletes, including many Olympic level athletes and professional footballers, suffer from asthma. Treatments such as inhalers or other asthma medications are effective in relaxing the airways and preventing asthma attacks when playing sports and exercising.

Cough Variant

Though many types of asthma involve coughing, Cough-Variant Asthma has severe coughing as its predominant symptom. In particular, this is a dry cough that does not expel any mucus, making it non-productive. People suffering from this variant of asthma often lack the other symptoms, such as a shortness of breath or tightness of the chest.

Cough-Variant Asthma is difficult to diagnose, and often goes undiagnosed altogether. However, it is most prevalent in young children who have childhood asthma.

It can be treated in the same manner as typical asthma, with an inhaler or other inhaled steroid to act as an anti-inflammatory.

Occupational Triggers

Related to allergic triggers, occupational triggers are defined are the many irritants that can be found in the workplace. These triggers can be both allergens and irritants, such as:

  • Chemicals such as rubber, latex, plastics and adhesives
  • Animal hair or dander
  • Coffee beans
  • Fabric dust (cotton, flax, hemp) commonly found in textiles
  • Metals such as platinum, nickel and soldering fumes

Attacks due to occupational triggers can be prevented by reducing exposure to them. OSHA provides guidelines for employers to dictate the acceptable level of exposure to these triggers.

To learn more about the dangers of asthma, visit Britain's leading asthma research charity, Asthma UK.

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