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What triggers an asthma attack varies by person, but the most common are "allergens that one would inhale like house dust mites, animals, different pollens and moulds," says Dr. Susan Waserman, Chair of the Medical and Scientific Committee for the Asthma Society of Canada. Non-allergic triggers such as viral infections can also cause severe asthma outbreaks, though, and so can exercise, cold air and in certain people, medications such as aspirin and non-steroidals, says Waserman.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to get your asthma under control. Here's how:
1. Confirm you have asthma
The most important step is to verify that you have asthma. "A lot of people have persistent coughing, breathlessness or exercise-induced symptoms, but they've never gone in for proper diagnostic testing," says Waserman. If that sounds like you, it's time to make a doctor's appointment.
2. Develop an action plan
Not everyone's asthma is the same. Once your diagnosis has been confirmed, talk with your doctor about developing a personalized action plan to appropriately manage your symptoms, whether they are mild, moderate or severe. This typically involves going over your medications with your doctor, pinpointing when your symptoms get worse and figuring out what to do in an emergency. It's important to have it in writing so you have something to refer to in case of an asthma emergency.
3. Use your medication properly
An inhaled corticosteroid (more commonly known as an inhaler) is a key part of most people's treatment, but many asthma sufferers are "either not using their medication properly or are not using it at all," says Waserman. It is critical for a person dealing with a chronic condition like asthma to take prescribed medications as directed — they help to treat inflammation of the airways and help keep your symptoms at bay. Many people with asthma have allergic rhinitis and also need to use an intranasal steroid spray in addition to their inhaler to help avoid asthma symptoms. If you don't take your meds, you are likely to develop a severe asthma attack and end up in the emergency room, or worse.
4. Identify and reduce exposure to triggers
Reducing exposure to your triggers begins with properly identifying what they are. An allergy test can help you figure out what you need to avoid, while an air filter can help reduce exposure by eliminating pollen and dust — which also helps to improve the air quality in your home.
Check out how you can get rid of allergens in your home.