Asthma makes people's airways hyperreactive, causing them to get smaller and often resulting in difficulty breathing. While it is not always possible to prevent asthma, people can try to avoid risk factors such as smoking, being overweight, and having prolonged exposure to air pollution.
Although asthma affects both children and adults, adults are four times as likely to die from asthma-related complications than young people.
So, preventing asthma symptoms whenever possible is vital. The following are some avoidable asthma risk factors.
Exposure to firsthand cigarette smoke can irritate the airways and make it more likely that a person with asthma will have more frequent and severe symptoms.
This is also true for secondhand smoke. Even when people smoke outside the home or in a car, the lingering smoke and chemicals can expose others to secondhand smoke.
Children whose mothers smoke cigarettes during pregnancy are also at greater risk of asthma than children whose mothers do not, according to the American Lung Association.
Doctors are not yet sure of the underlying cause, but obesity seems to be linked with asthma. Scientists have a theory that obesity can cause inflammation in the body, including in the airways, leading to asthma.
Obesity increases the amount of specific inflammatory factors that can increase the number of white blood cells in the body. This may cause inflammation and airway irritation.
People who live in urban areas, where there is more smoke and smog, are more likely to have asthma. Smog is darker air pollution that tends to be present in bigger cities with more vehicles and factories.
Ozone, which is a major component of smog, can trigger asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
As well as ozone, smog contains sulfur dioxide, which can irritate the airways and trigger asthma attacks.
Scientists have linked exposure to irritants such as pesticides to a higher risk of asthma. This risk extends beyond those who work with pesticides, such as farmers.
In fact, other at-risk groups include:
- children of pesticide workers who store equipment near the home or wear clothes that carry pesticide residue
- people who live near pesticide-treated areas or factories
- people who live in agricultural areas where it is likely that pesticide spraying occurs indoors or outdoors
Exposure to harsh chemicals such as cleaning products may also be a risk factor for asthma. This is especially true for spray cleaning products distributed into the air.
As a result, avoiding allergic triggers can help prevent asthma reactions.
Examples of allergens that may trigger asthma include:
- pet dander
- dust mites
If certain allergens trigger asthma symptoms, avoiding these triggers whenever possible is vital.
Children with asthma who have upper respiratory infections are more likely to experience wheezing. During an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, the airways may be more prone to the wheezing that can lead to asthma symptoms.
While it is not always possible to prevent upper respiratory infections, it is vital to take steps to prevent illness in children. A caregiver can achieve this by encouraging frequent handwashing and avoiding exposure to people with colds or other respiratory infections.
Scientists have found more than 100 genes potentially responsible for asthma, according to a study paper in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics. However, no single gene by itself causes asthma.
Some research suggests that 35–95 percent of people with a family history of asthma will get the condition, according to a study paper in the journal Pediatrics & Neonatology.
Although it is not possible to change family history, people can be aware that others in their family have asthma and seek treatment if they start to have asthma-like symptoms.
Such people can also avoid common asthma triggers if they know they have a genetic predisposition to the condition.
Some strategies to help prevent asthma symptoms include:
- stopping smoking and refraining from smoking around others, especially children
- avoiding public places where cigarette smoking occurs
- limiting outdoor exposure on days with heavy smog or smoke
- encouraging a diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein
- encouraging childhood vaccinations that can prevent common respiratory infections that could lead to worsening asthma symptoms
- avoiding allergens that trigger asthma attacks, such as pet dander, dust mites, mold, and pollen
A person should consider talking with their doctor if they think that allergens are triggering their asthma.
Recognizing asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing that is worse at night, and shortness of breath, is vital because it can help people seek suitable treatments for the condition.
An estimated 75 percent of severe asthma attacks are preventable, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.
Doctors can prescribe many different treatment types and combinations to help a person treat their asthma. This includes inhalers to open up the airways, steroid medications to reduce inflammation, and other oral medications that help reduce airway reactivity.
If a person takes them consistently, medications alongside preventive efforts can help prevent asthma attacks from occurring.
Asthma can affect a person's quality of life and cause serious respiratory distress that can sometimes be life-threatening. Knowing risk factors and triggers for the condition can help a person engage in preventive efforts.
If a person has asthma or concerns about risk factors, it is important that they talk with their doctor about how to consistently and effectively manage their symptoms.