About 25 million Americans develop these symptoms on and off: coughing, wheezing, increased mucous production, and difficulty in breathing. But most people suffering from these classic symptoms of asthma keep getting repeated attacks in spite of regular medication and avoiding exposure to known allergens that may trigger attacks.

According to a new article published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), the root cause of the problem is often lifestyle, and making modifications to our everyday life is the best way to manage asthma.

Asthma is a disease of the lungs, and its symptoms are caused by inflammation or obstruction of the airways, which transport air from the nose and mouth to the lungs. While most people develop asthma in childhood, it can strike people of any age. Adults who develop asthma are said to have “adult onset asthma."

The symptoms are triggered by exposure to allergens, such as pet hair, cigarette smoke, mold, dust, feather bedding, or perfume. Increase in air pollution due to smoke emanating from cars, factories, and power plants have also been shown to be a major cause of asthma attacks in recent years.

Due to daily exposure of pollutants on her way to work, the woman described in the article used to suffer from regular bouts of asthma. The woman had recently moved from a rural community to a dense urban environment. She enjoyed biking to work, and her new route exposed her to lots of traffic on the streets.

In this route, as determined by her allergists, she had to spend 70 percent of her commute in close proximity to major roadways. Her doctor recommended an alternate route by which only 15 percent of her time was within 300 meters of high-traffic roads.

Once she changed her route, the woman saw dramatic improvements in her asthma attacks.

"This experience shows that allergists can integrate their knowledge of the effects of air pollution into individual patient care, particularly asthma action plans," said senior author and pulmonologist Dr. Chris Carlsten in a statement. "Air pollution is known to be associated with worsening asthma symptoms, but sometimes changing routines with regard to exposure to air pollution can have a positive effect."

Indeed particulate matter such as dust, soot, diesel exhaust particles, ground level ozone, sulfur dioxide (released by burning of coal), and nitrogen oxide released from power plants are all major pollutants that trigger asthma.

According to doctors, allergists can suggest ways by which asthma sufferers can reduce their exposure to pollutants that may trigger attacks. Patients should also be forthcoming and discuss with their allergists all the allergens they are exposed to, so that the root cause can be identified.

Asthma kills 3,000 people each year in the U.S., and this research shows that managing one’s lifestyle is the best precaution to take. 

Source: Carlsten C. Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 2014.