The Nose Knows

What are some things that cause asthma?

Asthma is a health problem that makes it hard to breathe. Different things in the environment can make asthma get worse, like pollen from trees, smoke, grass, animal hair and mold. For some people, exercise triggers breathing trouble.

-Understand that an important part of controlling asthma is recognizing individual asthma triggers
-Identify and sort substances as either beneficial or harmful to breathing
-Compare healthy and unhealthy environmental choices related to breathing  
Key Vocabulary: Beneficial, Breathing, Environment, Harmful, Lungs, Substance, Trigger  

In this activity, you will make bracelets with beads that represent common asthma triggers.


  • The lungs are a part of the respiratory system, which helps bring oxygen from the air into the body.
  • Air flows in through the nose or mouth, down the windpipe (called the trachea) and into the bronchial tubes, root-like tubes/small tunnels that help the air flow through the lungs
  • At the end of the bronchi are alveoli, which are tiny air pockets. The alveoli help the oxygen get into red blood cells. There are hundreds of millions of alveoli in lungs.
  • Our lungs take a gas called oxygen out of the air and replace it with a gas called carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is passed back out through the bronchi, into the trachea, and out of the mouth or nose.
  • Blood passes through the lungs and picks up the oxygen. The blood carries the oxygen to cells throughout the body, because it reacts with the sugar we get from food, creating energy that powers the body.
  • When we inhale, the lungs inflate. Exhale, deflate.
  • When we exercise, we use more oxygen and our breathing quickens.
  • When we sleep, we use less oxygen and our breathing slows down.


  • Asthma is characterized by episodes or attacks of inflammation and narrowing of small airways
  • It is not well understood as to how and why some children and adults develop asthma and others do not – possibly related to environment factors and individual genetic disposition (Guilbert & Krawiec, 2003)
  • Children with asthma can present with a variety of symptoms such as
    • shortness of breath
    • wheezing
    • coughing
    • chest tightness
    • pain
  • Asthma triggers can elevate the severity of asthma at an alarming rate. Common triggers include:
    • “exercise, viral respiratory infections, air pollution, irritants, weather, allergens, coughing, and emotions” (Lim et al., 2009).
  • People with asthma usually have two types of inhalers: a controller and a rescue
    • Controller inhaler is typically used in the morning or night and contains medication that helps prevent asthma-related symptoms
    • Rescue inhaler is used in response to a sudden onset of asthma symptoms (i.e. an asthma attack)

For more information about asthma for parents, children and educators, please see IMPACT DC.

Harmful (Potential Triggers)Healthy
Cigarette smokeNo smoking areas
Gas fumesClean air
Air freshenersSunshine
Air pollutionDust free home
Strong perfumesWearing a face mask when
DustChecking for air quality
Freshly cut grass

Kid Friendly Language:

  • We have two lungs in our bodies. Our lungs are organs that help us breathe!
  • Our lungs look just like squishy, pink sponges
  • The air around us has lots of small things that you can’t see – an important one for us (and even plants) is called oxygen
  • Oxygen gets delivered to all different parts of our body through our blood. We need oxygen in all parts of our body to run, think, play, talk, and generally live!
  • The air, full of oxygen, flows in through your nose or mouth, down your windpipe, and into small tunnels in the lungs (bronchial tubes), which bring them to tiny air pockets (alveoli)
  • There are hundreds of millions of alveoli in the lungs
  • Try putting your hand on your chest and taking a deep breath – when your hand moves out, your lungs are filling with air. We call that expanding. When you blow out a big breath and your hand moves in toward your body, your lungs are pushing out all that air, or deflating.

Key Questions


  • Yarn/elastic cord
  • Scissors
  • Beads such as:
    • Colors including: green, yellow, grey, pink
    • Animal shapes
    • Sports themed

Activity Plan

  1. Connect to prior knowledge:
    1. Ask: Do you or anyone you know have any allergies? What happens when they get near the things they’re allergic to? (Possible response: they sneeze, cough, get asthma)
    2. Explain: People who have asthma sometimes have certain things that make their asthma even worse, just like allergies. We call those different things “triggers
    3. Explain: If we know what peoples’ asthma triggers might be, it is easier to help each other stay healthy.
  2. Sort the beads into piles or small bowls and review which asthma trigger each bead represents:
    1. Green = grass/trees/mold
    2. Yellow = pollen
    3. Silver = smoke/dust
    4. Animals = pet hair, dander, spit
    5. Sports = exercise
  3. String the beads onto the elastic or yarn. For a challenge, design a pattern.
  4. Tie the ends of the strings and tie around child’s writs. Review the represented asthma triggers throughout the day.

As with all activities, adult supervision may be required as small items such as beads may be a choking hazard for young children.

Follow-Up Questions

  • What happens when you have trouble breathing?
  • What choices do you make about keeping your body in a healthy environment?
  • What things in the environment can cause difficulty breathing?

Extension Activities

  • Give all students a straw and have them pinch their noses shut and breathe through the straw for about 30 seconds (use a timer). Ask: What did that feel like? How much air were you getting? Now, repeat the experiment but pinch the straw shut SLIGHTLY (only about halfway shut.) Now breathe through the straw again. Ask: What did that feel like? How much air were you getting?
  • Asthma Alien: some children with asthma can be symptom-free for years before an attack. Asthma can feel like an “alien” that is hiding but can pop out at any time! Use Model Magic, Googly Eyes, feathers, pipe cleaners, beads and sequins to make an asthma alien.

Check it out!


Reviewed April 2020 by Tiffani Sherrer, MPH, CHES, IMACT DC

NGSS Connections (Life Science)

Disciplinary Core IdeaConnect It!
LS1.A: Structure and Function All organisms have external parts. Different animals use their body parts in different ways to see, hear, grasp objects, protect themselves, move from place to place, and seek, find, and take in food, water and air. Plants also have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow. (1-LS1-1)Humans use lungs to take in air. How are our lungs similar or different to other organisms’ lungs? How do plants take in air?
LS1.A: Structure and Function Plants and animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction. (4-LS1-1)
LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans Populations live in a variety of habitats, and change in those habitats affects the organisms living there. (3-LS4-4)Look at asthma rates in different areas. Why do some communities/places have higher rates of asthma than other places? How is the environment affecting how people can breathe? More background on this topic.
LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)Compare and contrast how plants and animals breathe.