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Risk Factors of Asthma

Thursday 18 February 2021
4 minute(s) read
Dr..Nick Ho

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nick Ho, MD

on 10 March 2021

Table of Contents

I. Asthma and the Airway

II. Family History

III. Allergies

IV. Smoking

V. Living in Urban Areas

VI. Obesity

VII. Occupational Risks

Asthma and the Airway

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects millions of Americans. Asthma occurs due to inflammation in the inner walls of the airway, causing the air passages to narrow. This results in restricted airflow, making it difficult to breathe. Inflammation and airway constriction can occur when the airway comes into contact with certain triggers. When symptoms of asthma happen suddenly, an asthma attack can occur.

People with asthma are often prescribed a Symbicort Inhaler (budesonide/formoterol) or a Ventolin Inhaler (salbutamol) in case of an asthma attack. Another common prescription for asthma patients is Singulair (montelukast), which prevents wheezing and shortness of breath. There are certain factors known for increasing your risk of developing asthma. Read on to learn why some people are more susceptible to this condition than others. 

Family History and Asthma Risk

According to research, having a parent with asthma increases your risk of getting asthma by three to six times. [1] This is because your inherited genetic makeup can predispose you to develop asthma. Roughly 60 percent of asthma cases are hereditary.

a family of three hiking a trail

Having a parent who has asthma also increases your risk of having atopy, characterized by a genetically heightened sensitivity to common allergens and a subsequent tendency of developing asthma. A mother’s age when she gives birth can influence the child’s risk of asthma. A mother who is younger at the time of birth may have a child with an increased risk of asthma. [2]

Can Allergies Contribute to Asthma?

If you have a food allergy, you may be more at risk of getting asthma than someone without a food allergy. If two people have asthma, the one with the food allergy is more likely to develop severe asthma. Allergies can increase your risk of asthma even if they are not food-related. For example, being allergic to dust mites, mold, animal dander, or pollens is a major risk factor for asthma. [3]

Infections early in life may make you allergic to these environmental allergens. If you experienced a viral respiratory infection as an infant, the wheezing that the infection caused back then could evolve into asthma down the road. If you grew up around smokers, heavy automotive traffic, or other sources of air pollution, your risk of getting asthma significantly increases. [3] 

How Smoking Causes Asthma

Cigarette smoke is a major substance that irritates the airways. Consequently, smokers are very likely to develop asthma. The effects of smoking can be passed down. If your mother smoked or was exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy, your risk of asthma increases.

a hand holding a cigarette

If you have asthma, smoking can trigger an attack. Smoke causes your airways to swell, narrow, and fill with mucus. Because an asthma attack involves the same symptoms, smoking and asthma are a bad combination. [4]

Air Pollution in Urban Areas

Urban cities bustle with activity and can be exciting places to live. But these urban areas typically generate more air pollution than rural or suburban locations. As mentioned, respiratory infections early in life, especially during childhood, can greatly increase the chance of asthma later on. In a study of 51 cities worldwide, traffic was the biggest source of air pollution. [5] Other factors that cause pollution in urban areas include agriculture, domestic fuel burning, and industrial activities. 

Air pollution is measured by an index called the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI rates air quality on a scale from zero to 500, with zero representing the best possible air quality and 500 representing the worst. If you have or are at risk of asthma, the AQI is a helpful reference for deciding when you should stay indoors, if possible. For example, a forest fire or volcano eruption nearby can cause a high AQI number where you live. Being exposed to a high AQI environment can damage your airways, increase your risk of asthma, and cause exacerbations to pre-existing asthma. [6]

a picture of a polluted urban city

How Obesity Increases Asthma Risk

Being overweight puts you at a greater risk of asthma. This may be due to inflammation in the body that occurs under excess weight. Not only does being obese increase the risk of asthma, but it can cause more frequent and severe exacerbations as well. Additionally, being obese can reduce the effectiveness of asthma medications, making the condition more difficult to manage. [7] Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your chances of asthma. If you are concerned about your weight, talk to your doctor about lifestyle choices that can help. 

Occupational Risks Linked to Asthma

To better understand your risk of getting asthma, awareness of your environment is important. You have no control over your family history and genetic makeup, but it is possible to change the location of your home and workplace. If you are experiencing symptoms of asthma, see if you are exposed to occupational factors. 

For example, hairdressers may be exposed to chemicals from the products they interact with daily. Farmers and manufacturers are exposed to pesticides and debris present in a factory setting. Understandably, jobs are hard to change. If you are concerned about workplace hazards triggering asthma attacks, talk to your doctor about precautions you can take. 

The content provided in this article is based on thorough research and in some cases, reviewed by a medical professional. Our goal for the information is to provide helpful, general health informational. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.