According to Mayo Clinic, a predisposition to develop asthma is probably inherited as it tends to run in families, but the disorder can also be triggered by environmental factors. Specific factors that have been identified as increasing the risk of asthma include obesity; smoking; the presence of other allergic disorders, such as hay fever; and habitual exposure to exhaust fumes and other airborne chemicals.
Once asthma develops, exposure to certain factors in the environment are known to trigger acute attacks, which range from mild to life-threatening. According to Mayo Clinic, these environmental triggers include pollen, pet dander and other airborne allergens, such as dust mites. An attack of asthma can also be triggered by exposure to smoke or cold air. Physical activity can cause an attack as can stress or anxiety.
People with asthma must be careful about exposing themselves to sulfites, which are used as preservatives in foods such as shrimp and potatoes, explains Mayo Clinic. Viral infections, such as the common cold, are also likely to initiate an attack of asthma. Some pre-existing conditions can increase a patient's risk of having an acute asthma attack as well. Gastroesophageal reflux disease and menstruation are among the most common contributing factors to the severity and frequency of attacks.