Although asthma is the reason for nearly 500,000 hospital stays each year, researchers still don't know what causes it. People with asthma can be of any race, age or sex. Family history does influence the likelihood of developing asthma, so if other people in your family have asthma or other allergic diseases, you are more likely to develop asthma. Being exposed early in your life to things like tobacco smoke, infections, and some allergens may also increase your chances of developing asthma. Obesity may be linked to asthma, as well as other health problems.
Asthma can develop at any age. If you're younger than 30, it's likely that your asthma is triggered by allergies. Many people older than 30 with asthma are also allergic to airborne particles.
For some people with asthma, especially older adults, respiratory allergies don't seem to play a role. Instead, exposure to any irritant — such as viruses, cigarette smoke, cold air, and even emotional stress — can trigger an asthma attack.
These allergens and irritants are called triggers, and they vary from one person to another. In every case, it's important to avoid your triggers in order to reduce airway inflammation and your asthma symptoms.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Allergens, such as pollen, cockroaches and molds
- Air pollutants and irritants
- Smoking and secondhand smoke
- Respiratory infections, including the common cold
- Physical exertion, including exercise
- Cold air
- Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Sulfites which are preservatives added to some perishable foods
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a condition in which stomach acids back up into your esophagus. GERD may trigger an asthma attack or make an attack worse
Your provider can help you figure out what asthma triggers might be affecting you or your family. As part of your asthma management plan, you can then take steps to reduce your exposure to asthma triggers.