Risk factors for asthma

Although there is no cure for asthma, people with asthma can live healthy, active lives.

It isn’t clear why some people get asthma in the first place while others do not. However, new evidence on what causes the disease and how it can be prevented is emerging.

Researchers have learned that many factors in a person’s environment, in combination with their genes (hereditary) can cause asthma. For example, exposure to tobacco smoke, traffic pollution, and some substances that people are exposed to at work, such as formaldehyde, epoxy, isocyanates, diesel exhaust and other chemicals that can cause the disease.

For people with asthma, contact with these same materials can make their disease worse. The good news is that getting rid of or reducing exposures to these risk factors is possible, and doing so can help to prevent asthma from ever developing. For more information about primary prevention of asthma, please see Goal 5 of the Strategic Plan for Asthma in Massachusetts 2015-2020.


Several common things in the environment can trigger asthma symptoms. Asthma triggers cause breathing to be even more difficult by tightening the airways. Symptoms can be mild for some people, and dangerous for other people. Common asthma triggers (or things that cause asthma symptoms) include:

  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Fragrances
  • Strong smells from chemicals (such as cleaning products)
  • Cold, dry air
  • Pests, including rodents and cockroaches

Although there is no cure for asthma, people with asthma can live healthy, active lives. Well-managed asthma, including a safe and healthy environment, helps to prevent asthma symptoms.

Controlling your asthma and reducing your risk for asthma attacks

Asthma requires attention, even when you feel well. If not treated properly, asthma can limit activities, lead to hospitalizations, or even cause death. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn how to care for your asthma, and ask your doctor to fill out an asthma action plan.

Some people with asthma take controller medications daily to control their asthma and prevent asthma episodes, while others should carry a quick-acting (rescue) inhaler in case of an asthma attack.

You can also help control your asthma and reduce your risk of attacks by removing or avoiding triggers. Triggers are things that cause asthma symptoms, or make asthma symptoms worse. Your healthcare provider may be able to determine which triggers affect your asthma, so you can take action to avoid them.

Common asthma triggers include: pollen, dust mites, mold, cats, dogs, rodents, cockroaches, changes in climate, cigarette smoke, air pollution, stress, exercise, and colds and other infections.

The American Lung Association's Asthma page has excellent information on asthma and its triggers. The site also has an excellent page explaining what puts people at risk for developing asthma.

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