Asthma triggers are things that can make your asthma symptoms flare up. If you have severe asthma, you’re at a higher risk for an asthma attack.

When you encounter asthma triggers, your airways become inflamed, and then they constrict. This can make breathing difficult, and you might cough and wheeze. A severe asthma attack may lead to severe breathing difficulties and chest pain.

To help prevent the symptoms of severe asthma, avoid your triggers. Together, you and your doctor can figure out what these triggers are so you can stay away from them in the future, if you can. But first, you’ll need to monitor the things you encounter any time your asthma symptoms flare up.

To track your severe asthma triggers, start to familiarize yourself with the most common ones. Severe asthma may be triggered by one or more of the following:

  • allergies to pollen, pet dander, mold, and other
  • cold air
  • exercise (often referred to as “exercise-induced
    asthma” or “exercise-induced bronchoconstriction”)
  • fumes
  • illnesses, such as cold and flu
  • low humidity
  • pollution
  • stress
  • tobacco smoke

You’ve likely heard of using a food diary for weight loss or elimination diets. You can use a similar approach to keep track of your asthma symptoms. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-fledged diary entry — a simple list of what happened that day can help you keep track of your triggers.

Make sure you include information, such as:

  • activities you did
  • the temperature
  • any unusual weather conditions, such as storms
  • air quality
  • pollen counts
  • your emotional state
  • any exposure to fumes, chemicals, or smoke
  • exercise or other strenuous activities you did
    that day
  • any encounters with animals
  • visits to new places
  • whether you’re sick or not

Make a note of your use of medications — for example, whether you had to use a nebulizer or an inhaler. You’ll also want to jot down how quickly your symptoms resolved (if at all). Also note how long it takes for your rescue medications to work, and whether your symptoms returned later in the day.

Tracking your triggers may also be done digitally if you prefer. You can try out an app for your phone, such as Asthma Buddy or AsthmaMD. Whether you track your triggers by hand or by phone, be sure to share all your data with your doctor at your next visit.

Once you know and understand your triggers, visit your doctor. They can help confirm these triggers and assist you in managing them.

Your doctor can also help determine which types of asthma medications are best for you based on how frequently you encounter severe asthma triggers. Quick-relief medications, such as a rescue inhaler, can provide immediate relief if you face a trigger once in a while. Examples might include being near to someone’s pet, exposure to cigarette smoke, or going outside during times of low air quality.

However, the effects of quick-relief asthma remedies are only temporary. If you face certain triggers on a regular basis, then you might benefit more from long-term medications that reduce inflammation and airway constriction. (However, these don’t resolve sudden symptoms like quick-relief medications can.)

Some triggers last for several months and might need supplemental medication. Allergy medications, for example, may help prevent the symptoms of severe allergic asthma. Anxiety-induced asthma may benefit from therapeutic measures or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Despite being on a treatment plan, now’s not the time to stop tracking your severe asthma triggers. In fact, you’ll need to continue tracking them to make sure your medications are working. If your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor for another evaluation.