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What are the Causes of Asthma and How to Control It?

What are the Causes of Asthma and How to Control It
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni


Asthma is the most common lung disorder in children and adults. In the United States, approximately 7.8% of people have asthma, a chronic condition affecting the airways. It leads to wheezing and can make it hard to breathe. Some triggers include exposure to allergens or irritants, viruses, exercise, and emotional stress. Asthma comes in many forms, and it can be caused or triggered by various factors.

This article explains asthma types, causes, and triggers and how a doctor diagnoses asthma. Let us look at every aspect of asthma and how to treat it.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a noncommunicable disease (NCD) with a high prevalence rate. It is a chronic respiratory disorder resulting in breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.

In normal conditions, the air is carried into and out of your lungs by the airways. In the case of asthma, the airways can sometimes become inflamed and narrowed. In response, the air has trouble leaving your airways when you exhale. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 13 Americans has asthma. 

The WHO estimates that 262 million people have asthma, and 455 000 people died from it in 2019. Often, it starts during childhood but affects people of all ages. Several things can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms, including pollen, exercise, viruses, or cold air. These triggers are referred to as asthma triggers. Asthma attacks occur when symptoms worsen. An asthma action plan and treatment can help you manage your asthma, but there is no cure. Monitors, trigger avoidance, and medication may be part of the asthma management plan.

The severity, treatment response, and asthma triggers differ from person to person. In the opinion of some experts, asthma is a single condition that manifests in many different ways. Some experts believe that different types of asthma cause similar symptoms but are other diseases.

Symptoms for Asthma 

There are different levels of symptoms that range from mild to severe. The following are the usual symptoms of asthma:

  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue 

All asthmatics do not have the same symptoms. Asthma symptoms may sometimes appear to be unrelated to asthma. Several “unusual” asthma symptoms may mimic asthma symptoms, including bronchitis, vocal cord dysfunction, and even heart failure.

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Types of Asthma 

Types of asthma are classified using a variety of terms. Symptoms and treatments of some types may overlap. The types most commonly encountered are listed below.

Allergic asthma

Allergies are usually the cause of this type of asthma. Dust mites and pet dander are some of the allergens that cause symptoms. The condition is more common in children whose families have suffered from allergic conditions. Inhaled corticosteroids are used as a standard treatment. The treatment may also involve allergy drugs or reducing exposure to allergens.

Non-allergic asthma

Allergies are not associated with this type of asthma. Stress, viruses, and extreme weather may trigger symptoms. There is no difference in treatment between allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma.

Acute aspirin asthma

Adults are most likely to suffer from asthma caused by aspirin. NSAIDs like ibuprofen can trigger asthma symptoms. Infections of the sinuses and nasal polyps are also common symptoms. Standard asthma treatment includes aspirin desensitization or usual asthma medications.

Adult-onset asthma

Asthma symptoms can develop in adults at any time. In these cases, inhaled corticosteroids are usually required because the patients are generally non-allergic.

Asthma induced by exercise

Physical activity narrows airways, leading to the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. A loss of heat or water in the airways occurs during exercise. Various treatments are available, including bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids. Exercise can also reduce symptoms if routines are altered.

Eosinophilic asthma

The severity and difficulty of managing eosinophilic asthma are greater. An eosinophil is a white blood cell found in high amounts in people with eosinophilic asthma. As well as fighting parasitic infections, eosinophils are linked to allergies, but when levels are too high, they can cause inflammation.

Cough-variant asthma

A mucus-producing cough is one of the symptoms of other types of asthma. A dry, unproductive cough is the only symptom of cough-variant asthma. Leaving this type of asthma untreated can lead to more severe asthma.

Nocturnal asthma

Worse symptoms at night characterize nocturnal asthma. Some sleep factors or triggers may worsen symptoms in the evening. Effective treatment can have a positive impact on sleep quality and mental performance.  

Occupational asthma

Exposure to work-related factors triggers occupational asthma. This includes chemical fumes, dust, and other irritants in the workplace. Bakers, farmers, and metal workers have a higher risk of occupational asthma. It is possible to treat this condition with drugs and lifestyle changes. 

Causes and Risk Factors 


Many emotions can trigger asthma symptoms, including stress, joy, anger, excitement, laughter, crying, and other emotions might trigger asthma attacks.

Several studies suggest that asthma is associated with psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety. Chronic asthma may be caused by epigenetic changes caused by long-term stress.

Genetic factors

According to the American Lung Association, asthma development could be affected by a person’s genetic background. Individuals with asthmatic parents are more prone to the disease than those without.

Hormonal factors

In many cases, hormones and asthma have complex relationships and vary according to the individual. A woman’s symptoms may also vary depending on her menstrual cycle and when going through a menopausal transition. Asthma symptoms may be worsened or develop when hormone levels drop during menopause. Progesterone and estrogen levels drop during menstruation, which may worsen symptoms during the reproductive years; this condition is called “perimenstrual asthma.”

Menopause may alleviate asthma symptoms in other individuals. Airway hypersensitivity may also be caused by hormonal activity. Intermittent asthma patients may also experience symptoms on and off.


Some individuals’ symptoms of asthma can also be aggravated while pregnant. During pregnancy, smoking increases a fetus’ chances of developing asthma later in life.


Asthma in both children and adults is associated with obesity, both as a risk factor and as a disease modifier. Obesity can cause frequent and severe asthma symptoms, as well as a decrease in quality of life. They may also not respond to medications.


Allergies happen when your body reacts to something foreign. The individual is susceptible to allergic reactions once sensitization has developed.

Most asthmatics suffer from allergic asthma. Inhaling an allergen typically causes a person’s asthma symptoms to occur.

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Triggers for Asthma 

Asthma triggers that you experience may differ from those that others experience. You should become aware of your triggers and learn how to avoid them. If you cannot avoid the triggers, be mindful of the possibility of an attack. The following are some common triggers:

Atmospheric pollution

Exposure to outdoor air pollution can trigger an asthma attack. Factories, cars, and wildfire smoke are among the sources of this pollution. Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of dangerous gases and small particles. Inhaling too much of this smoke can trigger asthma attacks. Pay attention to air quality and plan your activities during low pollution levels.

Pets with fur

Pets are the most adorable creatures that may help you heal with their companionship. But those who are allergic to them may suffer from asthma attacks. If you believe your pet is causing attacks, consider finding it a new home. Avoid exposing yourself to it unless you find a new home for the pet. Fur trimming won’t ease asthma symptoms for those with asthma since pets’ fur does not trigger an allergic reaction.

Cigarette smoke

In particular, people with asthma are prone to be adversely affected by cigarette smoke. Stop smoking if you have asthma. The term “secondhand smoke” refers to smoke created by smokers inhaled by others. Asthma attacks can be triggered by secondhand smoke. Smokers in the household should be encouraged to quit. People should never smoke near, in, or around asthmatics, such as in their homes, cars, or anywhere they may spend a lot of time. Ensure that your home is smoke-free.


The inhalation of mold can trigger an asthma attack regardless of whether you have an allergy to it. It is common to find mold growth indoors in bathrooms, basements, and kitchens. Every climate has its type of mold. Getting rid of mold in your home will help you control your attacks.

Keeping your home mold-free involves the following steps:

  • Mold growth can be prevented by drying wet items within 24 to 48 hours.
  • Ensure all water leaks (such as leaky plumbing) are immediately fixed to avoid mold growth behind walls and under floors.
  • A moldy ceiling tile or carpet should be replaced.
  • Dehumidifiers or air conditioners can help you maintain a low indoor humidity level.
  • You can check humidity levels with a hygrometer to ensure they are low-no more than 50%. Check the humidity levels as they change throughout the day.
  • Scrubbing hard surfaces with detergent and water will remove mold. Allow to dry completely.
  • Ensure that the drip pans on your refrigerator and air conditioner are regularly emptied and cleaned.
  • If you’re taking a shower, open a window or run the exhaust fan in the bathroom.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Disinfectants can trigger an asthma attack. It is recommended that people with asthma stay away from cleaners and disinfectants when using or after using them. Clean or disinfect areas where people with asthma may spend time, such as homes, schools, or workplaces, using the following precautions:

  • Avoid overusing products by following a schedule for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Use safer products.
  • Clean visibly dirty surfaces before disinfecting.
  • Never mix disinfectant products.
  • For disinfecting, choose products that contain hydrogen peroxide (no more than 3%) or ethanol (ethyl alcohol).
  • Indoors, limiting or avoiding bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and quaternary ammonium compounds are advised.
  • Products with fragrances should be avoided. Inhaling fragrances can cause asthma attacks.
  • Airflow should be sufficient (ventilation).
  • If it is safe, open the windows and doors to let fresh air in.
  • Turn on exhaust fans to improve ventilation. Disinfectant vapors are best removed by exhausting the air (blowing it outside).

Some other Triggers 

It is also possible to have an asthma attack due to infections like the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a cold, or the flu (influenza). The symptoms of an attack can also be triggered by sinus infections, allergies, pollen, inhaling certain chemicals, and acid reflux. Exercise, taking certain medications, being in bad weather, including thunderstorms and high humidity, breathing cold, dry air, and ingesting certain foods and additives can trigger asthma attacks.

An attack of hyperventilation caused by strong emotions can also trigger an asthma episode.


Treatments currently available for asthma symptoms provide short-term relief. Generally, these treatments are effective at managing asthma symptoms and managing disease, but some people with severe illnesses don’t respond to them, resulting in ongoing symptoms.

Currently, no medicines can treat the structural changes asthma makes to the lungs or airways. 

The following are the best asthma drugs to help you manage an asthma attack and lessen its episodes.

  • Corticosteroids help people with bronchiectasis to better manage symptoms, reduce flare-ups, and improve their lung function.
  • Bronchodilators: There are some long-lasting variations of bronchodilators (the blue puffer, including salbutamol) that treat symptoms like wheezing and asthma.

When to Consult a Doctor for Asthma?

Asthma symptoms can be reduced with several effective treatments; however, it has no cure at the moment. Lifestyle changes and medications can also improve the quality of your life.

Consult a doctor if you have shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing but have not been diagnosed with asthma. You can connect with our doctors at YourDoctorsOnline and get a suitable treatment for your asthma attack.

If your asthma symptoms persist after diagnosis, you should consult your doctor more frequently.

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FAQs About Asthma Answered by Your Doctors Online Team

Children with asthma are diagnosed in what ways?

Diagnosing asthma in children involves examining the pattern of symptoms, the risk factors, and the results of a physical examination. The duration of the medication trial will typically be two to three months. A doctor will want to know if your child’s symptoms improve with medication and worsen when the medication is stopped.

How should asthmatics eat?

According to research, people who consume diets high in vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, magnesium, flavonoids, and selenium appear to have decreased asthma risks. Antioxidants are the main components of these substances, which can protect cells from oxidative damage.

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