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Asthma: Everyday Triggers Making Your Symptoms Worse

Are you concerned that your or your child’s asthma is getting out of control? Medical experts from online pharmacy The Independent Pharmacy are warning about the often overlooked triggers that could be exacerbating asthma symptoms and providing vital treatment advice.

For Asthma Awareness Month, The Independent Pharmacy has created interactive graphics to illustrate the everyday asthma trigger hotspots and explain the science behind them.

“We felt it was important to visualise the hidden triggers asthma patients navigate every day to boost awareness of the reality of living with asthma,” comments co-founder and registered manager of The Independent Pharmacy Scott McDougall (MPharm). “Everyday activities involve an added layer of pre-planning to ensure asthma treatments are always on hand, and to try and avoid the most impactful trigger points for each individual.”

Why asthma awareness is essential today:

  • 1 in 11 UK children receive treatment for asthma, making it the most common long-term medical condition in the country.
  • Nearly half of children with asthma experienced an asthma attack in the past year.
  • Just 25% of young asthma patients have an action plan to control their symptoms.

Do you think you know what triggers asthma and how to relieve its alarming symptoms? Put your knowledge to the test using these revealing graphics from the Asthma Triggers Heat Map (simply drag the arrow to see where the asthma triggers lie).

Asthma triggers in the living room

  • Your sofa could be an asthma-trigger hotspot. One UNICEF study found the average sofa could be harbouring 12 times the amount of bacteria as a toilet seat. Sofas also collect lots of dust, both in the cushions and the area underneath.
  • Carpets and rugs are hidden dust traps. Invisible allergens and dust particles stay hidden deep into the fibres of a carpet, making your living room a thriving environment for dust mites – tiny creatures that can trigger asthma symptoms. The same can be said for television screens, as well as ceilings and walls.
  • Animal dander is a typical allergen, so your beloved family pet might be triggering an allergic reaction that exacerbates your asthma symptoms.
  • House plants are both a hiding spot for dust and a place where mould can develop if overwatered. Some plants, however, can help your asthma by filtering toxins from the air (peace lilies are a great example).

Asthma triggers in the kitchen

  • Gas stoves are a likely culprit for worsening asthma symptoms. Nitrogen dioxide is an irritant that can affect your eyes, nose, and throat.
  • Many common cleaning products can exacerbate asthma symptoms, including bleach, detergents and air fresheners. Cleaning products typically contain strong scents and chemicals that reduce indoor air quality.
  • The medication box can trigger your asthma because some medicines, over the counter or prescribed, can cause asthma symptoms to flare up. This includes aspirin ibuprofen and beta-blockers. It’s thought somewhere between 10% to 20% of adults with asthma are sensitive to aspirin and NSAIDs.
  • Dust is rife in your kitchen, with the tops of kitchen cabinets, fridges, and light fixtures being key areas where dust can gather.

Asthma triggers in the bedroom

  • Dust mites thrive in mattresses and pillows as they feed on dead skin cells and enjoy warm, humid conditions. Many asthmatics are allergic to dust mites, making mattresses (especially old or second-hand ones) a major asthma trigger.
  • Lampshades, under the bed, and any decorative items in your bedroom collect dust that could affect asthma.
  • Scented candles are a popular bedroom accessory, but the perfumes typically included in these products are known to make asthma worse. Tea lights are a good alternative that can illuminate your room without reducing indoor air quality.

Asthma triggers at school

  • Infections such as colds and flu are among the most common asthma triggers (75% of asthma sufferers say getting a cold or flu makes their symptoms worse). With hundreds, if not thousands, of students attending the same school, the spread of infection is common.
  • Stress and anxiety are strong emotions that make asthma sufferers more likely to react to their triggers. Too much stress can also lead to a panic attack, causing people’s breathing patterns to change and flare up asthma symptoms. That is why exam season can often exacerbate, with the pressure of exams inducing stress. The pollen count is also high during the summer (when many children take exams), which causes hay fever and triggers asthma.
  • While exercise can help relieve asthma symptoms, some people find overexerting themselves through exercise can trigger asthma symptoms, making physical education lessons a risk factor.

Asthma triggers at the playground

  • Pollen allergies are among the key outdoor asthma triggers: this is because pollen from trees, plants (particularly weeds) and grass blow into your eyes and nose, causing an allergic reaction for many and exacerbating asthma symptoms. Tree pollen occurs typically from March to mid-May, weeds from April to August, and grass has two peaks lasting from mid-May through to July.
  • Air pollution and vehicle fumes from nearby roads are a factor to consider, particularly in urban areas. Vehicle pollution causes 4 million new asthma cases every year. Pollution is quick to irritate airways, with some pollution particles being small enough to get into your lungs.

Asthma triggers on an aeroplane

  • If your asthma is well managed, flying is generally safe: this is especially true because most modern planes have fantastic filtering systems to remove particles from the cabin.
  • However, there are surprising parts of an aeroplane that may carry lots of dust or bacteria. According to a CBC watchdog series reportheadrests and seat pockets are some of the dirtiest parts of a plane. Yeast and mould were detected on a majority of flights. Avoid getting sick on a plane by taking precautions like regularly washing your hands, as well as avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Changing air pressure is another potential asthma trigger. Why? Because at high altitudes the amount of oxygen decreases, which puts pressure on the lungs. Some recommend onboard oxygen for severe asthmatics and those who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • With stress being a key asthma trigger, a fear of flying can cause asthma symptoms to become more severe. Constant communication with someone you’re flying with may help calm feelings of anxiety. Also, ensure all asthma medications and treatments are up-to-date before travelling.

Scott’s advice if you see someone having an asthma attack

  1. Sit the individual in an upright position: To help free the airways
  1. Remove the trigger: Tobacco smoke, pet allergies, dust or a myriad of any other possible triggers
  1. Understand their treatment: Communicate with the individual (or someone with them) and follow their asthma plan. The plan will inform whether you help them use a rescue inhaler or immediately contact emergency services when symptoms worsen.

“Keep calm when you see someone having an asthma attack, you should reassure the person and look not to cause any additional stress or anxiety,” advises pharmacist Scott McDougall. “You also need to evaluate the severity of the attack. Blueish lips and tight skin appearing sucked in between the ribs are classic signs of a severe asthma attack – this means the individual is struggling to get any air into the lungs. You should pick up on whether the person is having trouble speaking or isn’t responding to medication. If you feel someone is having a severe asthma attack, call the emergency services.”

Control asthma with an action plan, says Scott

The best way to prevent asthma flare-ups is to keep their condition well under control. Do this by ensuring you have an up-to-date asthma action plan, a tailored guide to treating your asthma that is typically filled in alongside a GP.

An asthma action plan outlines the medication the patient can take (asthma preventers and relievers), how to act when symptoms worsen, and what to do if emergency action is required. For people looking to support friends, family or colleagues with asthma, ask if the person has an asthma plan and if there are any triggers they particularly struggle with.

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