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Living with asthma - symptoms, triggers and attacks

Living with asthma - symptoms, triggers and attacks

Identifying what triggers your asthma can help you to act fast and prevent symptoms from worsening. Triggers are things that irritate your lungs, bring on symptoms and sometimes an asthma attack. Typical triggers include exercise, pollen, pets, cleaning products and viral illnesses such as colds and flu.


It is normal to feel out of breath when you exercise, but some people find their asthma symptoms flare up during or after working out.  

What are the symptoms?

During exercise - when you are breathing harder and mostly through your mouth - the air that reaches your lungs is generally colder and drier than normal. This can irritate the airways causing tightening and inflammation.

What can I do to tackle the problem?

There are a number of things you can do to eliminate or reduce asthma associated with exercise.

  • Take your reliever inhaler just before you start exercising. Make sure that you have it with you when you exercise and take it again if you need to; wait until you feel better before you start exercising again
  • Always warm up and warm down thoroughly so that your airways are gradually prepared for the change in air temperature and humidity
  • Often exercise induced asthma represents under treated asthma - if it occurs it may indicate you need to start or step up your controller treatment

Pollen, mould and fungal spores

Grass pollen is a common trigger over the summer months whilst tree pollen is the most common culprit in spring. Moulds and fungal spores peak towards autumn.

What are the symptoms?

As well as the tell-tale signs of hay-fever - itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny or blocked nose - you may find that you develop asthma, or that your existing asthma gets worse. Wheezing, coughing, breathlessness or a tight chest can all be triggered by pollen, mould and fungal spores. Symptoms can appear day or night.

What can I do to tackle the problem?

  • Treating hay-fever with an oral antihistamine or nasal spray will help reduce the body’s reaction to the allergen and lead to less severe asthma symptoms
  • Limit your exposure by keeping car windows shut and showering/washing your hair after you have been outside
  • Treat your asthma symptoms as you would normally - take your reliever when you need it and make sure you are taking your controller regularly as prescribed. If you are needing your reliever inhaler more than once or twice a week then you will need to increase the dose of your controller

Other triggers


A cold, the flu or other respiratory infection can make asthma worse. All asthmatics should get a flu vaccine before winter to protect against viral infection

Pets and animals

Animal dander is made up of tiny flecks of skin that can trigger asthma; remember to thoroughly clean indoor areas


Smoking makes asthma significantly worse so you should speak to your pharmacist to help you stop


A small number of women with asthma find that changes in their hormone levels can be a trigger. This may be worse before menstruation

Cleaning products

Household cleaners and sprays can have an irritant effect, which can trigger asthma. Strong perfume can do the same

Work related

If symptoms are better at home or during holidays asthma may be related to your occupation and you should see your doctor for further assessment

Certain medicines

It's thought that as many as 30% of asthma sufferers have a sensitivity to aspirin, which can trigger symptoms. Other medicines that can trigger asthma symptoms include anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as ibuprofen) and beta-blockers

Find out more

The Asthma Society of Ireland has a wealth of information, advice and resources.

Need a prescription for asthma inhalers?

 Go to online asthma service



Authors and editors

Reviewed and updated by: Our clinical team Date reviewed: 14-01-2023