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 system
Air filtration systems can help rid your home of common asthma triggers, including most:
- 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 problem.
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 growth.
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 inflammation.
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 determine:
- 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 activities.
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 symptoms.
- You’re able to perform some but not all normal activities.
- 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 occurs:
- You’re extremely short of breath.
- Quick-relief medications aren’t helping.
- You’re unable to perform normal activities.