Asthma Childhood Triggers

Asthma is a chronic lung disease and one of the most common chronic childhood disorders. While the cause of asthma is unclear, it’s well established that an asthma attack occurs when the asthmatic child comes into contact with asthma triggers. Asthma triggers are substances that, while harmless to most people, cause asthma symptoms in susceptible people.

Anatomy of an Asthma Attack

When asthmatic children come into contact with asthma triggers, a cascade of events rapidly occurs. The muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes (the lungs’ airways) spasm. The mucosal membrane lining the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed and swells, narrowing the airways. The airways also produce excess mucus, which narrows the air passages even further.

As a result of this physical activity, breathing becomes difficult and asthma symptoms develop. Common asthma symptoms include:

  • chest pain
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • tightness in the chest
  • wheezing (a whistling sound as the child breathes).

Depending on the severity of the attack, asthma symptoms may be simply uncomfortable or cause life-threatening breathing difficulties. The severity of asthma symptom depends on the individual child’s response to asthma triggers.

Asthma Triggers

Despite understanding the nature of asthma attacks, asthma experts have yet to understand why asthma triggers affect some people but not others. Nor is it fully understood why asthma triggers that result in mild symptoms in some people can cause a fatal reaction in others.

Asthma triggers come in many forms. Every asthmatic child has his or her own set of triggers. Parents, doctors and children need to identify these triggers in order to effectively treat asthma.

The following are some of the more common asthma triggers:

Allergies: Allergens are some of the most common asthma triggers. Many asthmatic children develop asthma symptoms after exposure to:

  • animal proteins — including pet dander, urine and oil excreted through your pets skin
  • cockroaches
  • dust mites
  • molds
  • pollens
  • some food — like peanuts or shellfish.

Anxiety, Stress and Emotional Asthma Triggers: Some people experience increased asthma attacks during periods of anxiety or emotional stress. It is unknown whether the emotions themselves are asthma triggers, or whether anxiety and stress increase a person’s susceptibility to other asthma triggers.

Exercise: Some children suffer from exercise induced asthma. Strenuous exercise triggers asthma symptoms, and the risk is also high when exercising in cold or dry air.

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease): GERD occurs when stomach acid leaks into the esophagus, and is often seen alongside asthma. Children with GERD may have persistent heartburn and belch frequently.

Medication: Allergies to medication such as aspirin and sulfites can cause asthma symptoms.

Respiratory Infections: Infections that irritate the respiratory system are possible asthma triggers, including:

  • common cold
  • flu
  • pneumonia
  • sinusitis
  • upper respiratory infections.

Respiratory Irritants: Anything that irritates the airways has the potential to be an asthma trigger, including:

  • air pollution
  • common chemicals (chalk dust, talcum powder, coal dust)
  • occupational chemicals (industrial toxins, vapors, gases and fumes)
  • strong odors (perfume, household cleaners, paint fumes, varnishes and deodorants)
  • weather changes (cold temperatures, strong winds, changes in barometric pressure and humidity).

Smoke: Wood smoke from camp fires, wood-burning ovens and fireplaces can all trigger asthma symptoms. Tobacco smoke is also a common asthma trigger, whether breathed in as secondhand smoke or inhaled directly.

Avoiding Asthma Triggers

The best way to avoid asthma symptoms is to avoid asthma triggers. In some cases this is easy: if strong perfumes trigger asthma symptoms removing heavily scented perfumes, deodorants and scented cleaning supplies from the house will help prevent asthma attacks. Heartrending though it is to find a new home for the family pet, doing so may minimize a child’s asthma symptoms if pet proteins are a trigger.

Other asthma triggers are more difficult to avoid, such as pollen and air pollution. Keeping windows closed and air conditioning on during days with high pollen indexes and smog warnings provides at least some protection against these allergy triggers.

When Your Child Has Asthma Symptoms

Experience is the best guide when your child has an asthma attack. If you know the child has asthma, administering rescue medication may be enough to relieve asthma symptoms (rescue medication usually takes the form of a quick acting inhaler). If the child has severe symptoms, it may be necessary to take him or her to the nearest emergency room even after administering rescue medications.

Whether or not your child has an asthma diagnosis, wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing should be checked by a medical professional. If your child has difficulties breathing for any reason seek medical assistance. It’s far better to be safe than wait until difficulty breathing becomes life-threatening.


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University of Virginia Health System. (2004, February 12). Asthma attack triggers. Retrieved March 22, 2009, from the University of Virginia Health System Web site:

WebMD (2008, July 20). Asthma causes and triggers. Retrieved March 22, 2009, from the WebMD Web site: