Asthma is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Treatment of acute symptoms is usually with an inhaled short-acting beta-2 agonist. Symptoms can be prevented by avoiding triggers, such as allergens and irritants, and by inhaling corticosteroids.
Because much allergic asthma is associated with sensitivity to indoor allergens and because Western styles of housing favor greater exposure to indoor allergens, much attention has focused on increased exposure to these allergens in infancy and early childhood as a primary cause of the rise in asthma. Primary prevention studies aimed at the aggressive reduction of airborne allergens in a home with infants have shown mixed findings. Strict reduction of dust mite allergens, for example, reduces the risk of allergic sensitization to dust mites, and reduces the risk of developing asthma up until the age of 8 years old. However, studies also showed that the effects of exposure to cat and dog allergens worked in the converse fashion; exposure during the first year of life was found to reduce the risk of allergic sensitization and of developing asthma later in life.
Observational studies have found that indoor exposure to volatile organic compound (VOCs) may be one of the triggers of asthma. Even VOC exposure at low levels has been associated with an increase in the risk of pediatric asthma.
Home factors that can lead to exacerbation include dust, house mites, animal dander (especially cat and dog hair), cockroach allergens and molds at any given home. Perfumes are a common cause of acute attacks in females and children.
Symptoms occur or worsen in the presence of:
- Viral infection
- Animals with fur or hair
- House-dust mites (in mattresses, pillows, upholstered furniture, carpets)
- Smoke (tobacco, wood)
- Changes in weather
- Strong emotional expression (laughing or crying hard)
- Airborne chemicals or dusts
- Menstrual cycles
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