Odors as asthma triggers – What one needs to know

People who have eosinophilic asthma usually exhibit high levels of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell that helps build a strong immune system. However, when abnormally high levels of eosinophils come in contact with the cells present in the airways, they can cause inflammation. Eosinophilic asthma can also cause type-2 inflammation, resulting in decreased lung function. The following article specifically focuses on allergens like smells that trigger the symptoms of asthma. 

Symptoms of asthma

A person who has inhaled asthma-triggering odors may exhibit symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing when exhaling, and frequent coughing. Shortness of breath may be caused due to decreased lung function or inflamed air passages in the case of eosinophilic asthma type-2 inflammation.

Odors that trigger the symptoms of asthma 

The symptoms may be caused due to a variety of allergens, including dust, dander, or pollen. While these allergens can be avoided to a certain extent, allergens like gases and aerosols can be a challenge to avoid. Statistics suggest that more than 40 percent of people with asthma report health problems due to odors.

The odors that trigger asthma symptoms include:

  • Household smells
    These include air fresheners, chlorine and bleach (present in cleaning products), colognes and perfumes, deodorants, furniture polish (wood varnish), nail polish remover, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves.
  • Workplace smells
    Workplace smells include adhesives, carpet and flooring materials, gasoline, paint and paint thinner, and pesticides, among others.

Here is how different smells trigger asthma symptoms

The mechanism of adverse response to smells may be varied due to physiological and psychological processes. Odors usually activate the olfactory and trigeminal systems, which are associated with cranial nerves. The trigeminal nerve is an unmyelinated nerve distributed throughout the nasal passage. This nerve responds to the irritant vapors, leading to sensations like burning, tickling, and itching. The sensations give rise to neuropeptides, which potentially trigger asthma symptoms.

Managing strong odors and asthma

While there are treatments to manage the severity of asthma symptoms, lifestyle changes can also help manage the condition.

  • Avoid secondhand smoke, going near fireplaces, or other sources emitting smoke.
  • People with asthma can consider using fragrance-free cleaning and personal care products.
  • People with asthma should avoid using strong deodorants, perfumes, or colognes and encourage their family and friends to limit the usage when around them.
  • Keep personal space and workplace well ventilated.
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