Updated 01 November 2017

Pleasant and unpleasant asthma triggers

What brings on an asthma attack and what makes it worse? Certain triggers are nice, while others are not-so-nice.

What brings on an asthma attack and what makes it worse? Certain triggers are nice, while others are not-so-nice. One of the most important – but most underestimated – triggers is cold air.


  • Exercise
  • Perfume
  • Pollen
  • Braai smoke
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • A good laugh
  • Excitement
  • Sleep


  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cold or dry air
  • Dust mites
  • Chemicals
  • Feathers
  • Fungal spores
  • Cockroach droppings
  • Anxiety or distress
  • Carpet cleaning solutions containing formalin
  • Welding and soldering
  • Insect repellents

Other triggers

  • Illnesses and medication
  • Aspirin and other painkillers
  • Glaucoma eye drops
  • Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
  • Betablocker blood pressure medications
  • Hormonal changes (such as menstruation and pregnancy)
  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)

Some occupations expose the lungs of workers to dangerous substances over long periods and can lead to job-related asthma. According to the law damages can be claimed for this. People who work with wood, grain, flour, tobacco and chemicals such as formalin can also develop asthma.

Gases released during welding and soldering can also trigger an acute attack.

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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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