Breathe easy

Asthma is a silent chronic condition that impacts on people’s lives every day, and worryingly the UK has one of the highest prevalence rates for asthma in children. One in 11 children lives with the condition, but it’s possible to lead a full and active life if the asthma is managed .


Being the parent of a young asthmatic can be tough. A study by The Independent Pharmacy reveals the shocking triggers asthmatics face on an everyday basis, from your kitchen and living room to the local park. The project also revealed that schools are a real hotspot for asthma triggers, especially at the start of term.

But with increased asthma trigger awareness and education, managing asthma can become a lot easier. The Independent Pharmacy have produced research to increase our understanding of asthma flare-ups, as well as awareness of the surprising scenarios that can trigger asthma attacks. The research analysed six common living conditions that may exacerbate symptoms and trigger an asthma attack.

schools are a real hotspot for asthma triggers, especially at the start of term.

Asthma has many symptoms which can vary from mild to severe: wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. In an attack, the symptoms become more severe and breathing is restricted.

Asthma becomes easier to manage when sufferers have an understanding of the triggers that exacerbate their symptoms. In some cases, the condition can greatly improve in later life.

Typical asthma triggers

• Infections like colds and flu.

• Common allergies, such as hay fever.

• Air pollution, including vehicle fumes and tobacco smoke.

• Emotional reactions, including laughter, stress, and anxiety.

• Medication, including NSAIDs and Beta-Blockers.

• Food allergies and foods containing sulphates

• Weather conditions, such as sudden temperature changes.

• Mould and damp, particularly when exposed for long periods.

• Exercise, especially when it is strenuous.

Asthma at school

Asthma is a worry for many parents when their children go to school. Children returning to school are more sensitive to new asthma triggers, with more children being rushed to hospital for asthma in September than at any other time of year.

Infections such as colds and flu are among the most common asthma triggers, and these are rampant in classrooms in the autumn. Strong emotions brought on by coping with a new and demanding environment, such as school, make asthmatics more likely to react to their triggers. Too much stress can also lead to a panic attack, causing breathing patterns to change and flare up asthma symptoms.

Exercise-induced asthma is another factor to consider when at school. While exercise can help relieve asthma symptoms, some people find overexerting themselves through exercise can trigger asthma symptoms.

Outdoor play areas and parks

Pollen allergies are among the key outdoor asthma triggers: this is because pollen from trees, plants (particularly weeds) and grass blow into your eyes and nose, causing an allergic reaction for many and exacerbating asthma symptoms.

Tree pollen occurs typically from March to mid-May, weeds from April to August, and grass has two peaks lasting from mid-May through to July.

Air pollution and vehicle fumes from nearby roads are also a factor to consider, particularly in urban areas. Statistics show that vehicle pollution causes four million new asthma cases every year. Pollution is quick to irritate airways, with some pollution particles being small enough to get into your lungs.

Asthma at home

In the living room

• A UNICEF study found the average sofa could be harbouring 12 times more bacteria than a toilet seat: sofas also collects lots of dust, both in the cushions and the area underneath.

• Carpets and rugs are another hidden dust trap. Invisible allergens and dust particles stay hidden deep in the fibres of a carpet, making your living room a thriving environment for dust mites – tiny creatures that can trigger asthma symptoms.

• Animal dander can be found across the home too, so your beloved family pet might be triggering an allergic reaction.

• House plants can also be an asthma trigger, both as a hiding spot for dust and a place where mould can develop if overwatered. Some plants, however, can help your asthma by filtering toxins from the air (peace lilies are a great example).

A UNICEF study found the average sofa could be harbouring 12 times more bacteria than a toilet seat

In the kitchen

• Gas stoves are a likely culprit for worsening asthma symptoms. Nitrogen dioxide is an irritant that can affect your eyes, nose, and throat.

• Many common cleaning products can also exacerbate asthma symptoms, including bleach, detergents and air fresheners. Cleaning products typically contain strong scents and chemicals that reduce indoor air quality.

• Dust is also rife in your kitchen, with the tops of kitchen cabinets, fridges, and light fixtures being key areas where dust can gather.

In the bedroom

• Dust mites thrive in mattresses and pillows as they feed on dead skin cells and enjoy warm, humid conditions. Many asthmatics are allergic to dust mites, making mattresses (especially old or second-hand ones) a major asthma trigger.

• Lampshades, the area under the bed, and any decorative items also collect dust that could affect asthma.


The best way to prevent asthma flareups is to keep the condition well under control. You can do this by ensuring your child has an up-to-date asthma action plan: this is a tailored guide to treating asthma, typically completed alongside a GP. It outlines the medication the patient can take, how to act when symptoms get worse, and what to do if emergency action is required.

In the event of an attack, keep calm and reassure your child.

• Sit them in an upright position to help free airways.

• Remove the trigger: this may be tobacco smoke, pet allergies, dust or a myriad of other possible triggers.

• Follow their asthma plan, if they have one. This will explain whether you help them use a rescue inhaler or immediately contact emergency services when symptoms worsen.

Evaluate the severity of the attack. Blueish lips and tight skin that looks sucked in between the ribs are classic signs of a severe asthma attack. You should also pick up on whether your child is having trouble speaking or isn’t responding to medication.

If you feel someone is having a severe asthma attack, call the emergency services.


• Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children.

• 300 million people suffer from asthma worldwide: 11.6 per cent are aged 6 to 7 years.

• The prevalence of asthma is said to increase by 50 per cent every decade.

• Children are three times more likely to need medical help for asthma symptoms when the school year starts.



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