There's no way around it: asthma is complicated. If you’re at risk for asthma, or you've been diagnosed with the disease, it makes sense that you're interested in learning more about how to prevent the breathing difficulties associated with the condition. Many parents who experienced asthma as children are also curious about the steps they can take to stop their children from developing the disease, or from experiencing severe symptoms if they've already shown signs of asthma.
Here, we'll take a look at everything you need to know about preventing asthma, including triggers that can cause asthma to develop, how nutrition, exercise, and stress management can help to prevent or temper asthma symptoms, and how to set up an action plan in the event that you experience asthma.
Asthma is a chronic disease, meaning it is a long-term condition. People with asthma experience problems with the airways in their lungs. The airways in the lungs are comprised of small tubes that work to carry air into and out of the body.
When a person develops asthma, these tubes can become inflamed and/or narrowed, making it difficult for your body to get the oxygen that it needs to thrive.
If you, your child, or another family member are concerned about developing asthma, it's important to understand how the disease can develop. While the exact cause of asthma has yet to be discovered, research supports the idea that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of the condition.
Some people who have asthma experience issues with their breathing daily, and may need to rely on daily preventative and acute prescription medications in order to maintain healthy oxygen levels. Others may only experience asthma symptoms occasionally (such as when they're sick or when they're exercising), and may be able to rely on acute medication only. Those who experience mild asthma may be able to manage the condition by identifying triggers and making lifestyle changes that help to keep their symptoms at bay.
Asthma can present in a variety of ways. Some of the most common symptoms of asthma include:
- Wheezing (a high-pitched squeaking sound) when breathing, especially when exhaling
- Shortness of breath that doesn't have a clear cause, or shortness of breath after activity that doesn't resolve in a reasonable amount of time
- A feeling of tightness or pain in the chest
- Difficulty breathing while experiencing a respiratory virus (like the flu)
An important note: if you're experiencing an asthma attack, it's important that you seek emergency medical care right away. Left untreated, severe asthma attacks can be fatal.
Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to make it less likely that you’ll experience asthma symptoms. Over time, asthma can go into remission, allowing you to experience a symptom-free life. Here, we'll take a look at what you can do to lower or eliminate your asthma symptoms.
Identifying asthma triggers
One of the first steps necessary toward controlling asthma symptoms is identifying the factors that cause you to have trouble breathing. These symptoms can vary from person to person. Keeping a journal of your symptoms and factors that may be exacerbating your asthma can help you pinpoint your triggers.
- Air pollution: If you spend a significant amount of time in an area with poor air quality, you may experience a flare-up. Seasonal wildfires can create a sudden downturn in air quality that may cause an increase in symptoms.
- Allergies: Seasonal allergies, as well as pet allergies, are a common asthma trigger. People with severe asthma may find that even visiting a home with pets can cause their symptoms to worsen.
- Exercise: Working out can be a double-edged sword for people with asthma, as the increased breathing rate that comes with exercise can exacerbate symptoms. Moderate exercise helps overall asthma symptoms to decrease over time, however, and it's key for long-term health (more on that in a bit).
- Cold air: Many people who have asthma find that exposure to very cold air (such as going from a warm house to freezing outdoor temperatures) causes their symptoms to flare.
- Illness: Respiratory viruses and sinusitis are common triggers for asthma symptoms. If you have asthma and your symptoms are exacerbated by illness, it's a good idea to talk with your doctor when you feel like you're getting sick, so you can make adjustments to your asthma action plan if necessary.
Maintaining a healthy environment
Keeping your environment as clean as possible can help to decrease triggers that may exist in your home or workplace. Dust mites, pests, and smoke can all trigger asthma.
Some simple steps you can take to support your respiratory health in your environment include:
- Stay away from smoke. If someone in your household smokes, it's important that they do so outside. The residual irritants on their skin, hair, and clothes can be especially triggering, and encouraging them to quit can be a valuable conversation that can benefit you both.
- Control pests. Bugs, mice, and other pests can leave behind dander and waste that can trigger asthma for many people. Keep your kitchen as clean as possible, and make sure you put away food and wash dishes immediately. It's also important to get rid of clutter, clean spills immediately, and to keep food in airtight containers.
- Ask a family member or friend to vacuum. If possible, it's a good idea to have someone else in the house vacuum for you. While regular vacuuming can help keep dust at bay, the process may irritate your asthma. If your budget permits, purchasing an automatic vacuum that can run while you're away from home may be a good idea if you don't have someone in your household who can vacuum for you.
- Wash your bedding regularly. No matter how clean you keep your home, dust mites will take up residence in your bedding. Washing your pillow and bedding weekly in hot water kills them, and can help to lessen your nighttime asthma symptoms.
- Run a dehumidifier. Dust mites thrive in humid environments. Keeping your home between 30% and 50% humidity can help to lower their numbers and lessen the effect they have on your asthma.
Nutrition and asthma prevention
Many people find that making changes to their nutrition plan helps to alleviate some or all of their asthma symptoms. Let's explore the steps you can take to ensure that your nutrition plan is helping--not hurting--your efforts to reduce or eliminate asthma symptoms.
Increasing your vitamin D levels may prevent asthma symptoms. Research shows a link between low vitamin D levels and asthma attacks. Increasing your intake of orange juice, eggs, salmon, and fortified milk can all help you increase your vitamin D levels.
Boosting your vitamin E intake can also help to reduce symptoms, as the vitamin contains tocopherol, a compound that can help to reduce asthma symptoms. You can boost your body's levels of vitamin E by enjoying hazelnuts, almonds, raw seeds, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard.
It's also smart to know what foods to avoid in order to prevent an increase in asthma symptoms. Avoiding sulfites (found in pickled food, alcohol, maraschino cherries, shrimp, dried fruit, and bottled lemon and lime juice) can help. It's also a good idea to avoid foods that make you feel bloated or gassy, as this can make it feel harder to breathe. Pay attention to how you feel after drinking coffee or tea as well--both contain salicylates, a naturally-occurring chemical that can increase asthma symptoms in some people.
Incorporating physical activity
Many people who have asthma understandably feel nervous about exercise. That being said, healthy movement is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Your asthma action plan can help you get the activity you need while keeping your asthma symptoms at bay.
- If it's a part of your asthma action plan, take your acute relief medication (such as an albuterol inhaler) within 15 minutes of beginning to warm up. Take your time warming up before beginning to exercise. If you notice that your warm-up is triggering symptoms, utilize your asthma action plan and consider taking it easy for the day.
- Pay attention to your asthma symptoms while you're exercising. If you're developing symptoms, stop exercising, take your acute relief medication, and wait for your symptoms to resolve. If you experience symptoms again after you return to your workout, it's recommended that you stop exercising for the day.
- Don't exercise when you're in the middle of an asthma flare-up. Controlling your symptoms is an important part of setting yourself up for success with exercise.
- Keep paying attention to your symptoms after you cool down. Many people experience flares after their workout is finished as their breathing begins to return to normal. Take your acute relief medication after exercising if necessary.
Stress management and asthma
An increased respiration rate is a common response to stress, but for people with asthma, stress can set off a cascade of asthma symptoms that can be difficult to stop. Many people who have asthma experience additional stress when they feel their symptoms begin to flare, creating a pile-on effect on the original stressor.
There's no way to avoid stress, unfortunately. That being said, changing your approach to stress management can be an important part of your asthma action plan.
If you're experiencing acute or chronic stress that's increasing your asthma symptoms, it can be helpful to talk with a therapist or other trained professional who can help you examine your thoughts and develop new thinking patterns that can reduce stress.
Taking time to reset throughout the day with meditation and exercise can help. If you're experiencing a flare up and don't feel comfortable exercising, moving through a gentle stretching video (like this one) can provide a chance to reset without triggering additional symptoms. Getting plenty of high-quality sleep can also reduce day to day stress, as can limiting sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
Creating an asthma action plan
If you've been diagnosed with asthma, or you're experiencing asthma symptoms, it's important that you talk with your healthcare provider about developing an asthma action plan, which will include signs that indicate that your asthma symptoms are worsening, triggers to avoid, what medicines you need to take, and what to do in the event of an asthma emergency.
Many people with mild asthma or asthma that only shows symptoms during exercise only need acute relief medication. These work to open airways quickly, often allowing you to return to your normal activity in just a few minutes. If it's your first time using acute relief medication, it's important to reach out to your doctor if you feel that your symptoms aren't fully relieved by using your medication. You may need long-term control medication to keep your symptoms at bay.
Your doctor may prescribe long-term medication that can help reduce the likelihood of an asthma attack. It's important that you carefully follow your doctor's instructions, as missing a dose of your long-term control medication can make it more likely that you'll experience asthma symptoms.
Your doctor will also talk with you about what situations or environments you need to avoid in order to lessen the likelihood that you'll experience an asthma flare-up. Your doctor will also talk with you about the signs of worsening asthma (such as needing to use your acute relief medication more often, or struggling to fall asleep at night due to asthma symptoms), and how to know when you need to go to the emergency room.
Many asthma action plans also include a point of contact who you can call or text in the event that you need help or support getting the care that you need during an asthma attack.
Get the support you need with Evidation
Whether you're just getting started with learning how to prevent asthma or you're looking to create a healthier, happier life for yourself, we've got you covered. At Evidation, we're here to provide you with the guidelines and support you need to become your healthiest self. Download the app and start making the most of your health data today.