The surprising culprits that could trigger your asthma at home

Not sure what is causing your asthma flare-ups at home? Anything from soft toys to your sofa could be the reason you experience symptoms.

About 11 per cent of Australians have asthma – one of the highest rates in the world.

Asthma is a chronic lung condition in which the airways to the lungs narrow when exposed to “triggers”, causing breathlessness, wheezing, coughing and a tight chest.

Unfortunately, many triggers are found in the home.

In fact, a third of asthma sufferers have their worst symptoms at home, according to an Asthma Australia 2022 survey.

The six most common household asthma triggers are: dust mites, mould, pets, chemicals or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), smoke and pollen, says National Asthma Council Australia Sensitive Choice program manager Adele Taylor.

Surprising culprits that could be causing asthma flare-ups at home

Gas cooktops

Gas cooktops produce invisible pollutants that are a common cause of asthma reactions.

“Gas appliances can generate several different chemicals including formaldehyde or nitrogen dioxide, which can trigger asthma and allergies in some people,” Adele says.

As homes transition to more climate-friendly electric cooktops, the problem is likely to lessen – but, as Asthma Australia chief executive Michele Goldman notes: “Nearly half of all Australian homes use gas for cooking.”

The fix: Opt for electric, not gas, when choosing a new cooktop; install a good extraction fan in your kitchen; and open your windows when cooking.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants may set off your asthma, and not just because of their pollen.

“Indoor plants may cause asthma or allergy symptoms because of mould growth, dust or fragrances,” Adele explains.

The fix: Choose indoor plants with little or no pollen, such as devil’s ivy and rubber trees.

Or, consider removing all indoor plants to limit the likelihood of mould, dust and scent.

Soft toys

Dust mites in bed linen can be a big asthma problem (best tackled by washing bed linen weekly in hot water), but did you know they’re also found in many other household items including soft toys?

Dust mites are microscopic creatures you can’t see – their body parts and droppings can be the trigger.

The fix: “Remove soft toys from the bedroom or wash them weekly in water hotter than 55°C,” Adele advises.

Be aware that freezing soft toys to get rid of dust mites doesn’t go far enough.

“Freezing soft toys and other small items overnight kills the mites but doesn’t remove the allergen (the substance triggering the asthma reaction),” Adele says.

Soft toys are also magnets for pet hair and dander, so weekly washing will also target that trigger.


Dust mites also love upholstered furniture, which means every time you kick back, your symptoms may worsen.

The fix: Clean soft furnishings weekly with a vacuum that has a good filter, such as a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter.

Choose leather or vinyl sofas, rather than fabric.


Asthma-triggering chemicals come in many forms, including VOCs in furniture and house materials.

They are also in a range of products, from candles and body scrubs to diffusers and laundry detergents.

The fix: Buy no- or low-VOC products where possible.

If you buy products with VOCs, put them in a spare room, shed or outside while they off-gas.

Avoid bringing into your home any beauty or cleaning products that set off a reaction.

How to manage your asthma

While it can’t be cured, asthma can be managed by avoiding or reducing the triggers and taking medication, most commonly through an inhaler and a spacer.

Here are some general tips to help you manage your asthma:

  • Wash bed linen, clean surfaces and vacuum weekly.
  • When getting rid of dust, don’t use a feather duster.

“Use a damp or electrostatic cloth, as these trap the dust on the cloth,” Adele advises.

  • Tackle mould by cleaning it with white distilled vinegar, opening windows for ventilation, and using: extractor fans in bathrooms, kitchens and laundries; a dehumidifier to remove air moisture; and an air purifier with a HEPA filter.
  • If you have a pet, wash your hands after touching it, don’t let it into the bedroom, vacuum carpets and upholstery frequently and keep your pet outside where possible, ensuring it is warm, safe and content.
  • Take your medication correctly by watching how-to videos and showing your doctor exactly how you are taking it so they can correct you if needed.

“Nine out of 10 asthma sufferers don’t take their medication correctly,” Michele notes.

What to know about thunderstorm asthma

Spring and early summer are peak times for thunderstorm asthma as they’re also grass pollen season.

Grass pollen may travel long distances in the wind during a storm and you may breathe it in, triggering an asthma attack.

On these days, stay indoors, be alert to pollen levels, tune into media reports about the storm, and have your asthma medicine on hand.

National Asthma Week is September 1-7 2023.

For more on asthma:

Written by Joanne Trzcinski.