Most asthma cases are either an allergic response or induced by exercise. If your asthma is not caused by one of those two, you have non-allergic asthma. It is essential to understand the type of asthma you have so your doctor can develop an individualized treatment plan specific to you. Managing your asthma starts with understanding its source.
If strenuous physical activity triggers your asthma, you have exercise-induced asthma, also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Symptoms start during or soon after exercise and can worsen with exposure to specific triggers. Each patient can have individual triggers, but dry air and pollution often exacerbate exercise-induced asthma.ii
Because dry air can aggravate symptoms of exercise-induced asthma, many with this condition swim as their physical activity. The moist air at swimming pools reduces the severity of symptoms in some patients. Additionally, it may be easier to tolerate sports with periods of inactivity versus sustained periods of strenuous effort. Sports like golf, baseball, short distance track, skateboarding, or gymnastics are less likely to activate asthma attacks.
In addition to choosing sports more conducive to your condition, you can use your asthma medications before exercising and take breaks when you feel your asthma ramping up. Avoid demanding activities on high pollution days or dryer months. With medicines and minor modifications, people with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction are able to remain active and fit.
If you have allergic asthma, your airways swell and tighten when exposed to an allergen. In addition to the muscles surrounding your airways constricting, your airways begin to produce mucous and become inflamed. Because your airways are responsible for transporting air to and from your lungs, it becomes difficult to breathe. Common allergens may result in sneezing and itchy eyes in one person while triggering an asthma attack in another. Why some people respond to pollen with asthma symptoms and others do not is unknown.
In nearly 90 percent of children and 50 percent of adults with asthma, it is diagnosed as allergic asthma, making it the most common type.iii Anything that initiates hay fever and other allergic symptoms can cause allergic asthma. With allergic asthma, the physiological response to an allergen involves the airways instead of the standard runny nose and itchy eyes seen with common allergies.
Knowing your triggers and avoiding them, if possible, can help reduce asthma symptoms. Common triggers are pollen, mold spores, or animal dander. You may also notice that you react to smoke, pollution, chemical fumes, or perfume. Avoiding triggers is not always possible or even desirable. For this reason, avoidance should not be your default strategy for asthma management. In addition to avoidance, medications that treat allergies can be a crucial part of your asthma action plan.
If you have asthma that cannot be classified as allergic or exercise-induced, you have non-allergic asthma. Non-allergic asthma covers all other asthma cases that are not linked to an allergic reaction or elicited by strenuous activity. This type of asthma usually develops later in life.
Asthma Triggers Versus Asthma Causes
Not to be confused with asthma causes, asthma triggers are things like pollen or animal dander that can prompt an asthma attack. Cold or dry air, mold, and exercise are also on the list of triggers. However, the cause of asthma is not fully understood, but doctors and scientists can point to certain risk factors.
Asthma runs in families. If your mom or dad has asthma, you are more likely to get the same diagnosis. There is also evidence that suggests certain viral respiratory infections during infancy increase the risk of an asthma diagnosis later. It is likely asthma is caused by a combination of both genetics and environmental factors.
Respiratory infections can aggravate asthma and trigger attacks, but some data shows they can actually cause asthma. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in early childhood has been linked to an increased risk of receiving an asthma diagnosis. Doctors and scientists have known this for a while, but they have questioned whether RSV directly caused it or just revealed the children already predisposed. Although both scenarios are likely factual, more and more data support a causal relationship between asthma and RSV.