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Understanding the Causes and Risk Factors of Asthma

Understanding the Causes and Risk Factors of Asthma

According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people all over the world are diagnosed with asthma. In the Philippines, one out of every 10 Filipinos develops asthma. So it’s vital for everyone to know the top asthma causes and risk factors to better protect their health.

Respiratory diseases like COPD, lung cancer, and pneumonia make it difficult for most people to do their jobs and daily tasks. Asthma is another respiratory condition that affects one’s breathing. Though most often not fatal, it can become a nuisance when not treated properly.

It is a long-term disease where the lung’s airways become inflamed and narrow, causing the person to have difficulty breathing.

A person with asthma finds it difficult to breathe, because during an asthma attack, the airways constrict or tighten and the linings of the airway become inflamed.

This causes shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing, due to the constriction of airways.

Asthma causes and risk factors

Asthma Causes and Risk Factors

Dust mites or other allergens

Irritants and allergens, such as dust mites or dander, may irritate the airway and may trigger an asthma attack. So it’s best to avoid dusty environments and maintain a clean home.

Air Pollution

Constant exposure to polluted air can trigger asthma. This is especially true for those with a history of the condition.

If you already have asthma, exposure to air pollution may worsen your condition.

Allergy to medications

Some medications, such as pain relievers, cause the body to respond by constricting airways. An allergy to these types of medications can also trigger asthma

Extreme emotions

When a person starts feeling intense emotions caused by stress, laughing and crying, he may have difficulty in breathing. Panic attacks or anxiety episodes can also trigger asthma attackes.

Sudden change in temperature

When the weather is hot and humid, the air may cause asthma symptoms. Various allergens and pollutants in the air are more aggressive when the weather is hot.

Strenuous activities and exercises

Doing strenuous exercises can cause dehydration and fatigue, triggering asthma.


Did you know that once a person smokes, his or her airways become narrow and irritated?

Because of that, mucus forms along the airways making it difficult for that person to breathe..

Perfumes or cleaning solutions

Strong odors and perfumes may have particles that may irritate your lungs.

Other respiratory infections

Suffering from other infections like a flu can make you more prone to an asthma attack.

Who is at high-risk of developing asthma?

There are risk factors that can determine whether individuals are more prone to asthma.

Here are some of the most common risk factors associated with asthma.

People exposed to air pollution

Commuters are confronted with air pollution on a daily basis. This increases their chances of developing asthma as dust, dirt and other particles may get into their lungs.


Cigarette or tobacco smoke contains numerous carcinogens that are harmful to your health, and when inhaled regularly can cause inflammation of the lungs.

People with allergies

Dust, pollen and certain foods may trigger an asthma attack in some individuals.

A food allergen can cause airway constriction. Some examples of food sensitivities that can trigger asthma are cheese, smoked meats, wine, beer, and pickled foods.

Workers exposed to irritants

Those who work in mining, construction, and the like have a high chance of developing asthma due to the nature of their work. This is because they are regularly exposed to dust particles and other irritants.

People with a family history of asthma

Certain allergies are inherited. So if a person in the family has been diagnosed with asthma, there is a greater likelihood that there are other members who are also predisposed to the condition.

Those with existing infections

People already suffering from respiratory illnesses such as a cold or flu have higher tendencies to develop asthma, because these infections may weaken the respiratory system.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma can be diagnosed at any phase of life.

In adults, a doctor will typically do the following:

  • Check your personal and medical history
  • Conduct a physical exam
  • Perform a lung function test, such as spirometry or peak airflow tests
  • Order a chest or sinus X-ray

If your doctor suspects that your breathing difficulties indicate other conditions, they may perform other tests, such as acid reflux tests.

An allergy test can also help further confirm if your asthma is a response to certain allergens.

In children under 5, however, a doctor doesn’t typically do a breathing test. They may ask a series of questions regarding symptoms and then prescribe medication. This medication is typically a bronchodilator, or one that widens the airway, to ease breathing.

Asthma is diagnosed if this medication eases symptoms.

Depending on their findings, doctors can make the following diagnoses:

Intermittent asthma

This is when symptoms happen twice a week, at most. The doctor typically determines this by asking how many nights symptoms keep you up at night.

Mild Persistent Asthma

This means symptoms happen more than two days weekly. And the person is unable to sleep well three to four nights a month due to symptoms.

Moderate Persistent Asthma

This entails symptoms happening every day. Difficulty sleeping happens one or more nights each week.

Severe Persistent Asthma

This is a serious type of asthma that results in daytime symptoms, while keeping you up each night.

Key Takeaways

Knowing the different causes and risk factors affiliated with asthma helps one to better protect their respiratory health.

If you have asthma, it is best to know and understand the triggers and avoid situations that may aggravate your condition. And if you are predisposed to the condition, knowing risk factors can help you maintain lung health.

Consult your doctor on how to better manage your asthma symptoms.

Learn more about asthma here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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Top 8 Respiratory Illnesses and Diseases https://www.unitypoint.org/homecare/article.aspx?id=2448b930-1451-43e4-8634-c0c16707c749 Accessed August 30, 2020

Asthma Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-symptoms-causes-risk-factors/asthma-risk-factors Accessed August 30, 2020

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Food as an asthma trigger https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/food/#:~:text=Some%20food%20allergies%2C%20such%20as,in%20alcoholic%20drinks%20like%20wine. Accessed August 30, 2020

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Written by Karla Pascua on Aug 11, 2020
Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, M.D.