Prevention

You can’t prevent asthma. However, you can take steps to control the disease and prevent its symptoms. Certain things can make asthma worse, so it’s important to avoid these triggers. Triggers can include smoking or being around smoke, pollen, air pollution, or dry, cold air. Controlling things like mold and pet allergens can also help you avoid an attack.

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Certain things can make asthma symptoms worse. These are called triggers. When you are around a trigger, an asthma attack is more likely.

Common triggers include:

  • Cigarette smoke or air pollution.
  • Things you are allergic to, such as:
    • Pollen, mold, or dust mites.
    • Pet hair, skin, or saliva.
  • Illnesses, like colds, flu, or pneumonia.
  • Exercise.
  • Dry, cold air.

Here are some ways to avoid a few common triggers:

  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • If there is a lot of pollution, pollen, or dust outside, stay at home and keep your windows closed. Use an air conditioner or air filter in your home. Check your local weather report or newspaper for air quality and pollen reports.
  • Get the flu vaccine every year. Talk to your doctor about getting a pneumococcal shot. Wash your hands often to prevent infections.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors in cold weather. If you are outdoors in cold weather, wear a scarf around your face and breathe through your nose.

How to prevent flare-ups caused by air pollution

  • Try not to be outside when air pollution levels are high. Stay at home with your windows closed.
  • Do not smoke. This is the most important step you can take to prevent more damage to your lungs and prevent problems. If you already smoke, it is never too late to stop. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke; cold, dry air; and high altitudes.
  • Take your daily medicines as prescribed.
  • Avoid colds and flu.
    • Get a pneumococcal vaccine.
    • Get a flu vaccine each year, as soon as it is available. Ask those you live or work with to do the same, so they will not get the flu and infect you.
    • Try to stay away from people with colds or the flu.

Finding your asthma triggers

A trigger is anything that can lead to an asthma attack. If you avoid triggers, you can prevent some asthma attacks.

  • Identify possible asthma triggers.
  • When you are around something that triggers your symptoms, keep track of it. This can help you find a pattern in what triggers your symptoms. Record triggers in your asthma diary or on your asthma action plan.
  • Monitor your lung function.
  • Watch for things like being short of breath, having chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing. Also notice if symptoms wake you up at night or if you get tired quickly when you exercise. If your doctor recommends it, measure your peak expiratory flow (PEF), or "peak flow." A trigger may not always cause symptoms. But it can still narrow your bronchial tubes, which makes your lungs work harder. To identify triggers that do not always cause immediate symptoms, you can measure your peak flow throughout the day. Your peak flow will drop when your bronchial tubes narrow, so it will drop when you are near things that cause your airways to narrow.
  • Be tested for allergies.
  • Skin or blood testing may be used to diagnose allergies to certain substances. Skin testing involves pricking the skin on your back or arms with one or more small doses of specific allergens. The amount of swelling and redness at the sites where your skin was pricked is measured to identify allergens to which you react.
  • Share your trigger record with your doctor.
  • After you have found some things that may trigger your asthma, you and your doctor can make a plan for how to deal with them.

Controlling cockroaches to help manage asthma

Exposure to cockroaches may increase asthma symptoms. Cockroaches leave behind particles from their feces, eggs, and shells that can cause an allergic reaction.

Here are some steps you can take to remove cockroaches from your home.

  • Clean often.
  • Pay special attention to carpets, upholstery, and bedding.
  • Don't leave food lying around the house, especially at night.
  • Keep all food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Don't leave pet food and water out overnight.
  • Clean up food spills right away.
  • Keep your house dry.
  • Increase ventilation to get rid of moisture.
  • Don't leave garbage in open containers.
  • Throw away or recycle mail, newspapers, and boxes; cockroaches can hide in these items.
  • Seal openings that cockroaches can use to enter your house.
  • Pay special attention to windows, cracks in the wall, and gaps in the floor.
  • Use sticky traps that catch cockroaches and can be thrown away.
  • If you use cockroach bait or poisons, get the kind that come in ready-to-use childproof containers.
  • Use cockroach chemicals carefully.
  • Chemicals can irritate the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs. So chemicals aren't the first choice for controlling cockroaches in the home. If you must use chemicals to kill cockroaches,
    • Be careful to keep children away from the treated areas.
    • Follow all of the directions that come with the chemical.
    • If you use a chemical spray, open the windows and doors during use and until all odor is gone. A person who has asthma needs to stay out of the house until the odor of the chemical is gone.

Controlling indoor mold

Indoor mold (fungus) is very common in humid areas and in homes that have damp areas such as basements. Mold may trigger symptoms, such as wheezing or coughing, or another allergic reaction, such as the rash of atopic dermatitis or the stuffy nose of allergic rhinitis. Substances that trigger these reactions are called allergens.

Mold can get into a building through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold in the air outside can also attach itself to clothing, shoes, bags, and pets and can be carried indoors. Mold will grow in places that have a lot of moisture, such as around leaky roofs, windows, or pipes, or flooded areas. Mold grows well on paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood products. Mold can also grow in dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, and fabrics.

  • Control mold in your home.
    • Clean bathroom surfaces with soap and water, mold-killing products, or liquid bleach mixed with water. If you have mold in your home, remove it with one of these methods. Use bleach with caution, because it may irritate your nose and lungs.
    • Add a mold inhibitor product to paint that you use in the home.
    • Store fireplace wood outside the home. Drying green firewood can contain mold spores.
    • Check houseplants for mold. Repot or move them outside if the soil contains mold.
  • Control moisture.
    • Remove carpeting from rooms that may have a lot of moisture, such as the bathroom and basement.
    • Inspect closets for items, such as shoes, that may retain moisture.
    • Keep the house aired out and dry. This may be difficult in some seasons and some climates.
      • Use an exhaust fan in bathrooms and the kitchen to vent excess moisture.
      • Make sure your clothes dryer vents moist air to the outside.
    • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner during humid weather. Try to keep the humidity in the home below 50 percent. Molds thrive in higher humidity. You can use a moisture or humidity meter to find out how humid it is in your home. Many hardware stores sell this device.
    • Seal off or avoid damp areas, such as crawlspaces, attics, or basements. Use a dehumidifier to control mold growth in these areas. Try to avoid materials that have been stored in these areas.
    • Repair any water-damaged areas from leaking roofs or basements. Also, check the areas under sinks and around other plumbing for leaks. These areas can be prime mold-growing areas. 

Controlling pet allergens

All warm-blooded pets, such as cats, dogs, birds, and rodents, have dead skin cells (pet dander) and make urine and stool. These things can all trigger symptoms, such as wheezing or coughing, or another allergic reaction, such as the rash of atopic dermatitis or the stuffy nose of allergic rhinitis. Substances that trigger these reactions are called allergens.

  • Control pet dander
    • Groom pets often to reduce dander.
    • Keep your pet outside of the house or at least out of your bedroom.
    • Keep your pet in areas of the home that have hard floors that are easier to clean than carpeted floors.
    • Don't allow your pet on carpets or upholstered furniture.
    • Keep air registers closed if you have a pet. This will reduce the amount of pet dander moving through the house. If this isn't possible, close the register only in the room in which you want to reduce the dander.
  • Clean areas where you keep your pets
    • At least once a week, clean birdcages, rodent cages, or areas where pets sleep.
    • Dust and vacuum often. If you can, do this when the person who has an allergy is not at home. Use a static cloth for dusting, and use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which helps keep dust off carpets and floors and out of the air.
    • Wash regularly any rugs, pillows, pet beds, or other items your pet has contact with.
  • Avoid pet urine.
    • If you're allergic to small rodents, such as mice or gerbils, have other family members clean the litter box. Or keep your pets outside your home in a garage or shed. People who are allergic to small rodents can sometimes be allergic to a substance in the animal's urine.
  • Consider finding your pet a new home if your allergy symptoms are severe.
    • Think about how important your pets are to you versus how bad your allergy symptoms are. You'll also have to think about how happy or well  behaved a pet will be if it is kept outdoors and away from you.
    • Even after you remove a pet, it may take many months before the change has a noticeable effect. You may also need to remove items that the pet slept on or was often around.

Helping your child prevent an asthma attack

There's no certain way to prevent asthma. But you can help reduce your child's risk of asthma attacks.

The goal is to reduce how many asthma attacks your child has, how long they last, and how bad they get.

Here are some ways to help your child avoid having asthma attacks.

  • Make sure your child takes his or her asthma controller medicine. This helps prevent asthma attacks.
  • Help your child avoid asthma triggers.
  • For example:
    • Don't expose your child to cigarette smoke.
    • When you can, help your child avoid things he or she may be allergic to, such as pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches, mold, or pollen. Taking certain kinds of allergy medicines may help your child.
    • If exercise is a trigger for your child, ask your doctor if your child should use a quick-relief medicine before exercising.
    • Have your child stay inside when air pollution levels are high. Have your child exercise indoors when the air outside is cold and dry. If your child is outdoors in cold weather, have your child wear a scarf around his or her face and breathe through the nose.
    • Help your child avoid indoor irritants in the air. These include fumes from gas, oil, or kerosene or from wood-burning stoves. Or you may want to use an air filtration unit in your house to reduce the amount of dust and other pollutants.
    • If a cleaning product seems to trigger your child's asthma, stop using it. Use another product that doesn't cause symptoms.
    • Be alert to foods that may cause asthma symptoms. Some children have symptoms after eating processed potatoes, shrimp, nuts, or dried fruit. These foods contain sulfites, which may cause asthma symptoms.
    • Help your child avoid colds and the flu. Talk to your doctor about having your child get the flu vaccine.
    • Avoid giving pain relief medicines such as ibuprofen or other similar medicines if they increase your child's asthma symptoms. Think about using acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead. (Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious problem.) Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

©2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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Causes & Risk Factors

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Prevention

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Symptoms & Diagnosis

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Complications

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Treatment

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Self-Care

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