Asthma is caused by a combination of complex and incompletely understood environmental and genetic interactions. These factors influence both its severity and its responsiveness to treatment. It is believed that the recent increased rates of asthma are due to changing epigenetics (heritable factors other than those related to the DNA sequence) and a changing living environment.

Many environmental factors have been associated with asthma’s development and exacerbation including allergens, air pollution, and other environmental chemicals.Smoking during pregnancy and after delivery is associated with a greater risk of asthma-like symptoms. Low air quality from factors such as traffic pollution or high ozone levels, has been associated with both asthma development and increased asthma severity. Exposure to indoor volatile organic compounds may be a trigger for asthma; formaldehyde exposure, for example, has a positive association. Also, phthalates in PVC are associated with asthma in children and adults.

Asthma is associated with exposure to indoor allergens.Common indoor allergens include: dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, and mold. Efforts to decrease dust mites have been found to be ineffective. Certain viral respiratory infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus and rhinovirus, may increase the risk of developing asthma when acquired as young children. Certain other infections, however, may decrease the risk.
Hygiene hypothesis

The hygiene hypothesis attempts to explain the increased rates of asthma worldwide as a direct and unintended result of reduced exposure, during childhood, to non-pathogenic bacteria and viruses. It has been proposed that the reduced exposure to bacteria and viruses is due, in part, to increased cleanliness and decreased family size in modern societies. Exposure to bacterial endotoxin in early childhood may prevent the development of asthma, but exposure at an older age may provoke bronchoconstriction. Evidence supporting the hygiene hypothesis includes lower rates of asthma on farms and in households with pets.

Use of antibiotics in early life has been linked to the development of asthma. Also, delivery via caesarean section is associated with an increased risk (estimated at 20–80%) of asthma—this increased risk is attributed to the lack of healthy bacterial colonization that the newborn would have acquired from passage through the birth canal. There is a link between asthma and the degree of affluence.