Lifestyle Tips to Manage Asthma: How to Fend Off Attacks

Some triggers can’t be avoided, so here’s what to do.

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Inhalers are the mainstay treatment for asthma, but what fewer people realize is that your lifestyle can play a role as well. Certain factors may cause asthma attacks to happen more frequently—and for the disease to become more disruptive in your life.

Making lifestyle changes for asthma can also prevent asthma from damaging your body. Untreated asthma can cause the airways (the “bronchial tubes”) to remodel and the lungs to scar.

Know Your Triggers

The first lifestyle tip is to know your triggers. Until you know what “sparks” your asthma, it’s hard to make any meaningful adjustments. Knowing your asthma triggers empowers you to take preventative steps to avoid an attack—although of course some can’t be avoided completely.

Common asthma triggers include pollen, exercise, dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, irritants in the air (such as smoke or chemical fumes), and strong odors (such as perfume). Learn more about common asthma triggers here.

Reduce Your Exposure to Triggers 

Once you know your triggers, try to eliminate them whenever possible. For example, avoid perfume and use unscented soaps and detergents. Keep the home clean to ward off cockroaches, and wash bedding and fabric curtains often to prevent dust mites. (Here are other common indoor asthma triggers to eliminate.)

Some triggers just can’t be avoided. For example, it’s not exactly realistic to completely eliminate exercise from your life. “Many times asthma can be brought on by cold air [and] excercise, and often, in knowing this, the attack can be avoided by taking your rescue inhaler before the exercise—before your exposure to cold air,” says Sidney Braman, MD, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Learn the difference between rescue and long-acting inhalers here.

Another common problem is other people’s fragrances: the strong cleaning solution at the office, the air freshener in the Uber, the perfume of the stranger sitting near you at the restaurant, etc. If possible, move out of the odorous area immediately to prevent an asthma attack.

If this is an area you can’t leave (like your office), talk to a manager about switching products to reduce the odor and prevent the asthma attack. (Chances are, you might be helping more people than just yourself by speaking up.)

Manage Your Weight

Your weight is not a foolproof measure of your overall health, but there’s some evidence that suggests excess weight can worsen asthma symptoms.

“One form of asthma that has been recently recognized is obesity-related asthma,” says Dr. Braman. “Research has shown that … excessive fat cells [might] actually cause sudden onset of asthma in your 30s and 40s and 50s.”

Says Dr. Braman, “So obviously, another lifestyle change for many asthmatics if they’re overweight is to get that weight off, because it actually can improve asthma symptoms, and even in some instances, the asthma can go away.”

Treating your asthma and figuring out what your triggers are can be extremely individual, so it may be worth the time investment to work with a healthcare provider—ideally an allergist—to find the best solutions. The goal is to reduce your exposure to harmful asthma triggers—without compromising your quality of life.