More than 24 million American adults and children have asthma. It is a potentially life-threatening, long-term disease that inflames and narrows a person’s airways, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.

And while there is no cure, today’s treatments allow asthma sufferers to manage the disease and live normal, active lives.

Researchers still do not know the exact cause of asthma. And since asthma and allergies often work hand in hand, it’s important to know what may trigger both conditions.

Find Out What Triggers Your Conditions

Having yourself tested can determine whether you have asthma or allergies. And if you do, it may help pinpoint the things that trigger or worsen your condition.

There are two main types of triggers: allergens and irritants.

Allergens differ depending on the person. Allergens include things like pet dander and dust mites that cause your body’s airways to tighten and make it hard to breathe properly.

Irritants are things such as cigarette or wood smoke that upset the nose, throat and lungs to cause coughing or sneezing.

The Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says triggers could include:

  • Allergens from dust, animal fur, roaches, mold and pollen
  • Cigarette smoke, city smog, dust or chemicals
  • Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Physical activity

Since asthma and allergy triggers are different for each person, ask your doctor for help. The doctor will ask questions about your experiences, discuss your family history, give you a physical exam and likely order medical tests.

The process of determining what triggers your asthma or allergy can be difficult. Try to remember what you were doing and where you were when the most recent symptoms happened. Were your symptoms mild or severe?

Many triggers may be right under your nose — at home. The average house or living quarters is loaded with asthma triggers.

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Once you know your triggers, there are many practical steps you can take to make your home safer for those with asthma and allergies. Read Making Your Home Asthma Safe for advice on how to get asthma and allergies under control in your home.

Diagnosing Asthma in Children

Of the millions of Americans who currently have asthma or allergies, about 1 in 4 are under the age of 18. Asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood diseases. It is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization and a leading cause of missing school.

Most children who have asthma develop their first symptoms before age 5. But it can be difficult to diagnose.

Symptoms of asthma also occur with other conditions. Children may wheeze when they catch a cold or have a respiratory infection that causes similar symptoms.

As with all asthma conditions, and especially in children, it is important to seek medical advice early. A young child who often wheezes with colds and respiratory infections, may have asthma if:

  • One or both parents have asthma.
  • The child has signs of allergies, including eczema, an allergic skin condition.
  • He or she has allergic reactions to airborne allergens like pollen.
  • The child wheezes when he or she doesn’t have a cold or infection.

Follow an Asthma Plan

One you have been diagnosed with asthma, you and your doctor will need to decide how you will control the symptoms.

Depending on how bad your problem is, the doctor may prescribe medicine. This might include long-term control as well as quick-relief medicines. Long-term control means helping to prevent airways from becoming tight. Quick relief medicine is used when symptoms might suddenly occur and need immediate treatment.

Whichever path your doctor suggests, be sure to follow the plan. Those who care for young children with asthma, including parents, baby sitters and other caretakers, will need to be sure everyone knows what to do when it comes to treatment.

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What’s next?

Print out and complete an asthma action plan. An asthma action plan shows daily treatments and instructions for medicine. The plan also offers instructions for what to do when symptoms get worse or an asthma attack occurs. This written plan should be filled in with your doctor’s help. If your child has asthma, be sure to share the plan with everyone responsible for your child.