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Environmental Health

Children’s Environmental Health Promotion Program

Asthma Symptoms & Triggers


Any one of these symptoms may mean that you have asthma. You can have one or more of these symptoms or even different ones. Symptoms are clues that let you know that you are having an asthma attack.

  • Cough, especially at night Itchy, scratchy, or sore throat Tired
  • Difficulty breathing Runny nose Dark circles under the eyes
  • Chest feels tight or hurts Sneezing Headache
  • Shortness of breath Stuffy Head Restless
  • Wheezing Decreased Appetite Decreased Play
  • Itchy, watery or grassy eyes Sleep disturbances Decreased energy level

Asthma Attack: What It's Like


Asthma Triggers

Usually symptoms get started or "triggered" by something that bothers your lungs. These things are called asthma triggers. There are many kinds of triggers. They can range from viruses (such as colds) to allergies, to gases and particles in the air. Given this range, you may find it hard to figure out what starts your asthma attacks. You may even think your attacks "just happen." But this is generally not true. Something usually triggers an attack. Triggers could include:

  • Dust mites
  • Pets or animals
  • Pollen
  • Changes in temperature or
  • Weather
  • Colds/Infections
  • Certain Foods
  • Exercise
  • Strong odors such as:
    • Perfumes
    • Sprays
    • Paint
    • Cleaning agents
  • Emotions such as:
    • Extremely upset
    • Stressed
  • Air pollution such as:
    • Smoke
    • Smog


Once you find out your triggers, you can do something to prevent your asthma attacks. This gives you control. The result is that when and if you have attacks, there's a good chance that they will be less severe and you won't have as many.

For example, do you get an asthma attack after you've exercised? If you do, you should tell your doctor. You can get help.

You can still exercise when you have asthma, but you may need to take rest breaks while you exercise. If you know that exercise triggers your asthma, the doctor may tell you to take your asthma medicine before you exercise. This way, you can still have fun exercising without having an asthma attack.

There are other asthma triggers that you can get rid of or avoid. Good examples of these triggers are cold air, dust, feathers or molds.

Cigarette smoking is another trigger that must be avoided. If you smoke, you need to quit. Smoking cigarettes will make your asthma worse, and if you breathe the smoke from someone else's cigarette, you may get an asthma attack.

This is true for children, too. In fact, children are especially at risk when they breathe secondhand smoke. Studies show that children of smokers are more likely to suffer asthma attacks. Their asthma gets worse, too. But you can do something about this. You can protect yourself (and if you're a parent with a child who has asthma, you can protect your child, too) when you know the risks of smoking cigarettes or breathing secondhand smoke. The wisest and healthiest things you can do are to live, work and play in places that are smoke free.


  • Asthma symptoms and attacks usually get started by triggers.
  • Talk to a doctor about these triggers.
  • Find ways to avoid them. Find ways to get rid of them.

Asthma Guide (pdf)

Referral to social, health, and other resources as needed