Woman wearing a mask and goggles, holding a power sander.Controlling Asthma Triggers: Irritants

Irritants are things in the air that can trigger symptoms in some people with asthma or COPD. Below are some common irritants. Some are tiny particles and others are dissolved in the air. You will also find tips to help you stay away from them.


This is from cigarettes, cigars, pipes, barbecues, outdoor campfires, and fireplaces.

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

  • When you travel, ask for rental cars and hotel rooms that are smoke-free.

  • Stay away from fireplaces and wood stoves. If you can’t, sit away from them. Make sure the smoke goes outside.

  • Don’t burn incense or use candles.

  • Move away from smoky outdoor cooking grills.


This is from car exhaust and other pollution.

  • 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. Air conditioners filter the air. The filter needs to be cleaned regularly.

  • In your car, set air conditioning to use air only inside the car. This will let in less pollution.

Strong odors

These are from air fresheners, deodorizers, and cleaning products. They are also from perfumes, deodorants, and other beauty products. Strong odors also come from incense and candles, and insect sprays and other sprays. The chlorine in swimming pools can affect some people.

  • Use products with no scent. An example is scent-free deodorant or body lotion.

  • Do not use products with bleach and ammonia for cleaning. Try making a cleaning solution with white vinegar, baking soda, or mild dish soap.

  • Use exhaust fans while cooking. Or open a window if you can.

  • Do not use perfumes, air fresheners, potpourri, and other scented products.

Other irritants

These are dust, aerosol sprays, and fine powders.

  • Wear a mask while doing tasks like sanding, dusting, sweeping, and yardwork. Make sure any indoor work area is well-ventilated. Open doors and windows when doing these tasks.

  • Use pump spray bottles instead of aerosols.

  • Pour liquid cleaners instead of spraying them. For example, instead of spraying a window with cleaner, pour some on a rag or cloth.

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.