It’s important to note that it’s possible to have allergies and not have asthma, and to have asthma and not have allergies, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). But some people have allergy-induced asthma, which is also known as allergic asthma.
What are the most common allergic asthma triggers?
Dr. Monteleone says the best way to identify your allergic asthma trigger (or triggers) is to get tested by a board-certified allergist. There are plenty of possible allergens that can spur your asthma symptoms, but these are the most common ones:
Find yourself reaching for your inhaler any time you’re around a furry or feathery friend? You could be allergic to animal dander, which is microscopic skin particles, saliva proteins, and urine or feces that comes from pets, typically cats, dogs, rodents, or birds, according to the American Lung Association. Because these substances are so tiny, they can hang out in the air for long periods of time and easily stick to fabrics on clothing and furniture.
Worth noting: The AAFA points out that there’s no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” cat or dog, which are typically short-haired. That’s because any animal with fur is more prone to carrying other allergens (like dust), so the fur alone isn’t the only possible trigger. If you have allergic asthma that’s triggered by these pets, it’s important to take that into account before actually getting one or being around one.
Pollen is a fine, powdery substance that stems from plants, and it’s one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies, according to the AAFA. Pollen tends to blow around in the spring, summer, and fall, winding up practically everywhere outdoors (including in the air you breathe). This can cause major allergic asthma symptoms in people who are susceptible, Dr. Monteleone says. The most common types of pollen that trigger allergic asthma are from grasses and weeds like ragweed, sagebrush, lamb’s quarters, and tumbleweed, as well as certain trees like birch, cedar, and oak.
Mold—fungi that produce nonvisible spores that are released throughout the air—can lurk indoors or outside. Mold tends to thrive in warm, moist environments, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). That can make summer and fall particularly difficult seasons for people whose asthma symptoms are triggered by mold. Mold can pose a problem inside your home as well, especially in areas that tend to be damp, like basements or bathrooms.
You can’t see dust mites, but they can set off your allergic asthma symptoms. In fact, they may be the most common trigger of allergies and asthma that occur year-round, the AAFA says. These teeny, spider-shaped creatures (*shivers*) live in places like mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. They survive by eating pet dander or skin flakes that humans naturally shed. Both the dust mites and their poop can trigger allergic asthma in some people.
Cockroaches can lurk in many homes and buildings—they love warm places that provide food and water, like kitchens and bathrooms. Whether you physically see them or not (as they’re notoriously sneaky and most active at night), roaches can trigger allergic asthma symptoms. Their body parts, saliva, and poop contain a protein1 that is a common year-round allergen for many people, according to the AAFA.
Non-allergic asthma triggers to note
Even though the triggers above are the most common source of allergic asthma symptoms, the condition can also feel worse due to things that cause non-allergic asthma2, like viral respiratory infections, exercise, irritants in the air (such as strong disinfectants, heavy fragrances like perfume, tobacco smoke, or air pollution), stress, drugs, certain food additives, and even the weather, according to the ACAAI.
How are allergic asthma treatments tailored based on triggers?
If you suspect that you have allergic asthma, it’s important to meet with a board-certified allergist to get a proper diagnosis first, Priya Patel, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at Penn Medicine, tells SELF. “The allergist can do testing, which may consist of skin testing or blood testing, to help identify allergens that may be triggering asthma,” she explains. “They can then provide tips for how to avoid those allergens.”