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Asthmatic? Manage Your Triggers With These Tips

Emilie was diagnosed at 12 with asthma and has spent years learning how to manage her symptoms through lifestyle and minimal medication.

I was diagnosed over twenty years with asthma, and over that time, I’ve learned a lot about trigger management. Most techniques are common knowledge, like covering your nose and mouth in cold weather and staying away from cigarette smoke, but I’ve discovered some lesser known techniques which have made a huge difference in my life.

People with asthma often use peak flow meters like these to monitor their breathing. Trigger management helps improve their results.

People with asthma often use peak flow meters like these to monitor their breathing. Trigger management helps improve their results.

Do You Have a Food Sensitivity?

One of the most overlooked types of triggers is what comes in our food and drink.

Due to the nature of the disease, asthmatics tend to be more sensitive to certain types of food. Some of the common offenders are dairy, red meats, citrus fruits, salty foods, tomatoes and other nightshade vegetables. Some people also have varying degrees of sensitivity to processed food, soda and alcohol, as well.

It’s also wise to look out for food allergies and sensitivities. Not all food allergies result in an anaphylactic reaction, but they do all result in some sort of inflammation. When I have even a small amount of seafood, for instance, I have an asthma attack, and I need to be very careful about my triggers for several days afterwards. It obviously hasn’t killed me, but taking part in sushi night isn’t worth the risk.

Your reaction to these problem foods may be subtle enough to go unnoticed for years. If you have the access and funds, talk to a certified dietician about which foods should be avoided and which are best for asthma. Ideally, you should talk to your doctor as well, before making any big changes.

In the mean time, try cutting back on junk food, alcohol or other suspect foods for a couple of weeks and monitor the changes in your health. Just remember to keep consuming a healthy level of calories and nutrients.

If you do notice an improvement in symptoms, you can adjust your diet accordingly. It’s also important to realize that having a little bit of the problem foods once in a while won’t hurt you, unless you have a full blown allergy, but eating them on a regular basis may make your asthma worse.

Of course, drink lots of water. Staying well hydrated can cut down the incidence of breathing problems while improving your overall health.

Although they aren’t foods, it’s important to realize that some medications may also cause worsened asthma symptoms. If you ever have a reaction to any medication, stop taking it, talk to your doctor and avoid using it in the future. Of course, if the reaction is severe enough, get emergency care as soon as possible.

Most fruits and veggies are great food options for asthmatics.

Most fruits and veggies are great food options for asthmatics.

I rock this dust mask. Or something.

I rock this dust mask. Or something.

Clean Regularly and Wear a Dust Mask

One of the most common asthma triggers is dust. Personally, I’ve always thought it was a bit of a stupid trigger. How can I avoid dust? It’s everywhere. You’d think my body would recognize it as being harmless by now.

The best way to manage this tricky trigger is to clean on an at least weekly basis. Carpets in particular are notorious dust collectors, and they should be vacuumed weekly. Hard surfaces should also be swept or vacuumed every week. Surfaces should also be wiped down regularly to avoid dust buildup.

Linens, like pillow cases, blankets and bedding, should also be washed, though that can be done every other week. Many pillows can be washed, too, but check any tags for care instructions, as some may need special considerations. Pillows can be washed once or twice a year, as it takes a long time to build dust in them, and washing too often may damage them. Just be sure they’re dried completely before using them again. Mold and mildew can be just as damaging as dust, if not more so.

Remember, when you’re cleaning, always wear your dust mask. You can get these in the paint departments of most home renovation stores and some department stores. I’ve personally had luck at Menards and Target. They can also be found online, and can be used several times before they need to be switched out for a new one.

I also prefer to clean with the windows open, when the weather allows it, and to make my own cleaners whenever possible. I’ve found that caustic cleaners, like bleach and some commercial cleaners, are also triggers.

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More Trigger Management Tips

Clean Your Indoor Air

Some heating and cooling systems come with built in air purifiers, but if you can’t replace an older system, or can’t afford to include a built in purifier, you can buy a freestanding model.

These come in all sizes, some small enough to sit on a desk top, while others are big enough to accommodate large rooms.

We picked one of the larger models up this winter, when I was struggling with my breathing. Within twenty minutes of turning it on, my breathing eased.

When looking for an air purifier, first determine where you’d like to use it, and your price range. Then, look for a model fitting your needs and keep an eye on it for sales, if it’s not already in your price range.

I’ve found that purifiers with dual filtration systems work very well. The one we currently have has one reusable filter we can wash every few months, and one we'll eventually need to replace.

You’ll find room size recommendations on the box, as well as care instructions and when not to use certain features. Our purifier, for instance, has an ionizing feature that needs to be turned off whenever smoke or cooking oil is in the air.

I would also suggest picking up a newer model, if possible. We had picked up a closeout model before the one we have now, and had to get rid of it after a while, because we couldn’t find filters for it when the ones we had ran out.

Ragweed is one of the biggest causes of hay fever.

Ragweed is one of the biggest causes of hay fever.

Allergy Forecasts

Respiratory allergies fall into two categories: Indoor and Outdoor. Things like dust and mold are considered indoor allergens, because they tend to concentrate within buildings. Things like pollen and smog are considered outdoor allergens, as their problem areas tend to be out of doors.

If you live in a city, you may already be familiar with air quality or smog alerts announced over the news. If you’re in a more rural area that may not be something you need to worry about. Smog and smoke are composed of tiny particles, or particulate matter, that enter the lungs and nose as we breathe. Those little bits of matter irritate the linings of our sinuses and lungs, which triggers coughing and congestion, which in turn can trigger asthma attacks.

If you live in a polluted area, there’s little you can do to avoid it, other than to move or staying close to a functional air purifier. There’s no shame in leaving the house with a dust mask, either.

Pollen may be something you can avoid to a degree, though. Pollen is exuded by flowering plants during the spring and summer months, so they can fertilize flowers to form seeds. The weather service in your area should have a pollen alert feature, but if it doesn’t, you can determine a rough estimate of when your triggers bloom.

Generally speaking, trees, many flowers and grasses are all most active throughout the spring months. Ragweed, my floral nemesis, blooms in late July and through August. Armed with this information, you can get an estimate of when to take part in allergy therapy, be it through over the counter allergy medications or herbal treatments, like drinking nettle tea.

If you learn how to identify the plants themselves, and you live in an area that you can maintain your own yard, you may be able to pull them before they bloom and help lessen the pollen levels around your home.

Although there’s no cure for asthma, through trigger management, self knowledge, proper medical care and a healthy lifestyle, you can minimize its effect on your life.

More On My Life With Asthma

© 2014 Emilie S Peck

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