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Using a Home Blood Pressure Monitor
Using a Home Blood Pressure Monitor

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Lesson 2: Asthma Triggers

What are common outdoor trigger?

Trees and grass and molds, oh my!

Hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) affects more than 35 million people in the United States. Airborne pollens and mold spores are outdoor allergens that commonly trigger symptoms during the spring and fall. During these times, your symptoms could include sneezing, congestion, a runny nose, and itchiness in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears–depending on where you live and the exact allergen to which you are allergic.


Pollens are the miniscule, male spores of flowering plants that are spread by air currents. These powdery granules are necessary for plant fertilization. Many trees, grasses and low-growing weeds have pollens that are easily carried in the wind. These are the pollens that trigger allergy symptoms.

Hay fever is typically triggered in the spring by tree pollens, whereas in the late spring and early summer, the triggers are usually various grass pollens. Ragweed pollen is most responsible for late summer and fall hay fever in North America. Generally, the pollen season lasts from February or March through October, however the pollinating season starts later in the spring the further north one goes. Trees pollinate earliest, followed by grasses and finally weeds.

Outdoor molds

Molds are microscopic fungi that are related to mushrooms and mildew, but do not have stems, roots or leaves. Their spores are airborne and are present in many states throughout the year. Outdoor mold spores first arise after a spring thaw, reach their peak in July in warmer states and October in colder states. In the South and on the West Coast, mold spores can be found year round! They are typically found in soil, vegetation and rotting wood.

Weather can influence hay fever symptoms. Allergy symptoms are often decreased on days that are rainy, cloudy or windless, because airborne allergens do not spread as easily in these conditions. Hot, dry and windy weather spreads pollen and mold more effectively and increases allergy symptoms.

Assignment #2
Have you ever wondered how air quality affects your asthma? Before learning about airborne irritants, read this informative article about air pollution and asthma.

Airborne irritants: Mind if I smoke in your lungs?

Those with allergies and asthma should also avoid the following airborne irritants:

  • air pollutants like tobacco smoke, wood smoke, smog and ozone.

  • vapors, dust, gases or fumes you are exposed to at your job

  • strong odors or sprays such as perfumes, household cleaners, cooking fumes (especially from frying), kerosene, propane, natural gas, paints or varnishes.

  • other airborne particles such as coal dust, chalk dust or talcum powder.

  • changes in temperature and humidity, barometric pressure or strong winds.

Although all of these irritants can aggravate your asthma, tobacco smoke is particularly dangerous. Several studies have reported an increased incidence of asthma in children whose mothers smoke. Any sort of tobacco smoke is a health risk in the home of an asthmatic.

Other triggers: When aspirin attacks!

Some asthma triggers do not involve an allergen or airborne irritant. Rather, certain physical states of the body can trigger an attack or aggravate asthma symptoms. The most common ones are:

  • Viral infections such as colds or viral pneumonia can irritate your airways, nose, throat, lungs and sinuses. This added irritation can provoke or aggravate symptoms.

  • Sinusitis is an inflammation of the hollow cavities around the eyes and behind the nose. Symptoms of sinusitis can include wheezing, postnasal drip, cough, headaches, sinus pressure or enlarged lymph nodes. Mucus drains into the nose, throat and bronchial tubes, which can trigger or aggravate asthma.

  • Rigorous physical exercise can also trigger an attack. Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose, exercising in cold, dry air, or prolonged exercise, such as medium to long-distance cycling or running, can increase your chance of experiencing exercise-induced asthma (EIA).

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid flows back up the esophagus. It affects up to 89% of patients with asthma. Symptoms can include severe or repeated heartburn, belching, night asthma, increased asthma symptoms after meals and exercise or frequent coughing and hoarseness.

  • Medication triggers. Certain medications can trigger asthma symptons in adults. These medications can include aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen and beta-blockers (used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure or migraine headaches). Up to 19% of adult patients with asthma are sensitive to aspirin or NSAIDS.

  • Food allergy. Eating certain foods or food additives can trigger asthma symptoms, especially in 6—8% of children with asthma. Some of the offending items are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.

  • Emotional Stress can contribute to your asthma symptoms. For example, anxiety and nervous strain can cause you to become fatigued, very physically tense, or can provoke hyperventilation. This can increase asthma symptoms.

Assignment #3
Here's a fun, interactive game to test what you learned about asthma triggers. When you are finished, get out your dust mask and move on to lesson #3 to learn how to reduce the asthma triggers you face both indoors and out. We call it Trigger-Busting!

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