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Controlling Asthma Triggers: Irritants

Irritants (air pollutants) are common triggers of symptoms for people with sensitive lungs. Anybody who has asthma or COPD needs to watch for these. But there’s more to air pollution than smoke and car exhaust. Identify which irritants are likely to affect you. Check off the tips that are most useful for you.

Woman wearing a mask and goggles, holding a power sander


Smoke from cigarettes, cigars, pipes, barbecues, and fireplaces irritates your lungs.

Don’t smoke. And don’t let people smoke in your home or car.

When you travel, ask for nonsmoking rental cars and hotel rooms.

Sit in the nonsmoking section when eating out.

Avoid fireplaces and wood stoves. If you can’t, sit away from them. Make sure the smoke is directed outside.

Don’t burn incense indoors.

Move away from smoky outdoor cooking grills.


Vehicle exhaust and other air pollutants combine to create smog. This can be a trigger for symptoms.

Read or listen to local air quality reports. These let you know when air quality is poor.

Stay indoors as much as you can on smoggy days. If possible, use air conditioning instead of opening the windows.

In your car, set air conditioning to recirculate air, so less pollution gets in.

Strong Odors

Strong odors from items such as room fresheners, perfume, mothballs, incense, deodorizers, and insect sprays can trigger symptoms.

Use scent-free products, such as scent-free deodorant and lotion.

Avoid using bleach and ammonia for cleaning. Instead, make a cleaning solution by mixing water with white vinegar or baking soda.

Use exhaust fans while cooking. This helps reduce odors.

Store clothes in boxes with lids. Don’t use mothballs or cedar chips.

Avoid perfumes, air fresheners, potpourri, and other scented products.



Other Irritants

Dust, aerosol sprays, and fine powders can irritate your lungs.

Wear a mask while doing tasks like sanding, dusting, sweeping, and yardwork.

Use pump spray bottles instead of aerosol cans when possible. Make sure your work areas are well ventilated.

Pour liquid cleaners instead of spraying them.

NOTE: If you have a quick-relief inhaler, carry it with you at all times. If you can’t avoid an area with irritants, watch for symptoms. If you have symptoms, leave the area and use your quick-relief inhaler as directed.



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