5 foods that can trigger an asthma attack

Could the food you eat have an impact on your asthma?
Could the food you eat have an impact on your asthma?

No one really knows exactly what causes asthma. What we do however know is that asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but one thing is constant: when airways come into contact with an asthma trigger, the airways become inflamed, narrow and fill with mucus.

According to statistics from the Western Cape Government, there was a significant rise in adult asthma in South Africa over the past 25 years.

If you are suffering from asthma, it is important to know that although your symptoms can be easily controlled, an attack may be deadly.

Common asthma triggers include colds and flu, cigarette smoke, exercise and allergies (allergy-induced asthma).

Allergy related triggers

"Allergy asthma" is triggered by allergens that cause the bronchial tubes to treat inhaled particles as “obstructions”, resulting in wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

When you come into contact with an allergen, your body responds by producing histamine, as a result of an overreaction of your immune system. It’s ultimately histamine that’s responsible for your symptoms. 

Here are some of the most common foods that can trigger asthma symptoms:

1. Milk

Milk is an essential source of calcium, and the link between milk and asthma has often been disputed by researchers. But there are a small number of asthma sufferers who will actually benefit by cutting milk and dairy products out of their diet. People who are already predisposed to dairy allergy from a young age can suffer from wheezing, coughing and breathlessness. If you find that your symptoms are indeed triggered by dairy, find an alternative source of vitamin D and calcium.

milk jug and glass

 2. Eggs

Egg allergies are more common in children and outgrown in most cases. Symptoms are more often triggered by raw, undercooked or medium eggs than fully cooked eggs. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), people who are prone to egg allergies should also check food labels and medications that may contain eggs.

3. Additives and preservatives

Sulphates and tartrazine are the most common additives that can trigger allergies. These are often added to give food a longer shelf life. Look out for food labels containing these, or steer clear of processed meats, canned, packaged food, sauces, fruit juices and fizzy drinks.

food cans

4. Wheat

Wheat allergy is usually caused by albumin and globulin amino acids in wheat. When these amino acids enter the body through the digestive system or the lungs, the immune system reacts by making so-called immunoglobulin E antibodies. These antibodies then cause the actual symptoms associated with asthma, such as wheezing and coughing.



After milk, soya allergy is the second most common allergy in the Western World, according to a Health24 article. Soya is found in processed foods like pre-packaged soups and fermented foods, such as soya sauce.

soya beans

If you suspect that any of these foods trigger your asthma symptoms, you can experiment by eliminating them or consult your doctor to do an allergy test. 

All images supplied by iStock.

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