What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects an overwhelming 20 million Americans. Furthermore, statistics reveal that asthma affects approximately 1 in 10 children in the United States, making it the most common chronic childhood disease to date. During an asthma attack, the lung’s airways (bronchioles) become inflamed, contract and become lined with excessive amounts of mucous—causing a restriction of airflow and making it very difficult to breathe.
These attacks are often triggered by pollution or some environmental irritant like cigarette smoke, household cleaning agents, or other toxins. Other common triggers include a change in air temperature or humidity; stress, allergies, and physical exertion.
Chronic asthma can be a frightening condition which often requires vigilant medical management to prevent and minimize the occurrence of acute attacks. This can take the form of conventional Western medicine, homeopathic or naturopathic treatment. While many asthma attacks are relatively mild and can be treated and controlled at home, some are more severe and may even require hospitalization.
If you suspect that you or your child may have asthma, it is important to seek medical attention so that a proper diagnosis can be made. Your physician will ask about experienced symptoms and if there seems to be anything that is triggering them. A medical history will be taken where your doctor may ask about allergies, family history of asthma or other lung-related illnesses and when the symptoms were first noticed.
A physical examination and non-invasive lung functioning tests will generally follow and help to determine diagnosis. Your physician may also examine the skin and ask if there is a history of hives, eczema or skin-related allergies as there is a common link between skin reactions and chronic asthma. If a diagnosis is confirmed, it is important to discuss different treatment options with your doctor and explore alternatives.
Symptoms of Asthma
Symptoms of asthma as well as the severity, frequency and duration of asthma attacks differ between individuals. It is important to learn to recognize your own early warning symptoms of an attack so that swift action can be taken if necessary. Symptoms of asthma generally include:
- Tightness, pain or pressure felt in the chest
- An audible ‘wheezing’ sound is characteristic of asthma, especially when exhaling
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough, especially at night or in the early mornings
What Causes Asthma?
Most cases of asthma are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Studies have revealed that asthma does run in families, making children of asthmatic parents especially vulnerable to the condition. In addition, children with an early history of infections and continuous exposure to second-hand smoke are far more likely to develop the condition than other children.
Common asthma triggers
Asthma has a number of triggers which often include:
- Allergies to pollen, grass, certain foods, house dust mites, pets or any other environmental allergens
- Air pollution or irritants including car and factory emissions
- A number of perfumed products including deodorants, chemical detergents, fabric softeners and incense
- Upper respiratory infections colds, flu and sinusitis
- Physical exertion or exercise
- Certain medications such as aspirin and penicillin
- Hormonal changes in women during menstruation pregnancy
- Sudden changes in air temperature or humidity
- Cold air
- Stress, anxiety and other strong emotions
Help for Asthma
The treatment of asthma involves working together with your health care provider to find methods that would best help control the condition in terms of prevention of acute attacks and the management of milder symptoms. A treatment plan will include learning about how to quickly recognize an attack, what to do in emergency situations and how to avoid personal triggers where possible. In most cases, the use of conventional western medication and/or herbal and homeopathic remedies is recommended.
Conventional Western medicine generally treats asthma with a combination of preventative and quick-relief medications. These may include the frequent use of inhalers, anti-inflammatory medication, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and anti-allergy medications.
While conventional medical treatment may sometimes be necessary (especially quick relief medications), many of them come with a number of potentially dangerous side effects as well as negative effects on immune system functioning. Prolonged use of these medications have the potential to lower immune system health, resulting in increased asthma attacks, reduced resistance to allergens, while also leaving the body more vulnerable to other illnesses.
Note: You should not stop your asthma medication without first consulting your doctor, a trained naturopath or homeopath for guidance.
There are a number of highly effective herbal and homeopathic remedies that may be used for the successful treatment of asthma and other respiratory conditions. Depending on the severity of the asthma, natural remedies can either reduce or completely eliminate the need for the synthetic drugs and are often used in conjunction with conventional medications as a part of a holistic treatment plan.
Herbal ingredients such as Matricaria recutita and Astralagus are known for their antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, while homeopathic ingredients such as Mag. Phos. and Nat Sulph are successful at easing chest and throat constriction and soothing mucous membranes while reducing the presence of phlegm in the chest. Used regularly, natural remedies can help improve respiratory health, reduce the incidence and severity of asthma attacks while strengthening the immune system.
More Information on Asthma
Tips on Managing Asthma
While some form of supervised treatment is usually required to manage asthma, there are a number of things that you can do to improve respiratory health and reduce the effects of asthma on your daily life.
- Exercise regularly. Many asthmatics avoid exercise for fear of inducing an asthma attack; however, it is not necessary to live a sedentary life-style. Regular, gentle exercise will help strengthen over-all lung and heart functioning and may help reduce asthma— provided you keep it in moderation and respect the limits of your fitness levels. If you are unfit, start off slowly, gradually increasing activity as your fitness levels increase.
- Include Vitamin C, B6 and magnesium to your daily supplements as a lack of these vital nutrients has been implicated in a number of inflammatory conditions, including asthma.
- Avoid sulfites and preservatives such as sulphur dioxide and sodium benzoate as these tend to trigger asthmatic reactions.
- Keep an ‘asthma diary’ to help you to identify triggers and determine when your asthma becomes out of control.
- Avoid common irritants such as spray deodorants, perfumed cleaning agents, and cigarette smoke, wherever possible.
- Reduce dust and pollen in your household. During pollen season, try keeping the windows closed and opt for an air conditioner instead. Dust can be reduced by replacing carpets with tiles or wooden floors, buying washable curtains and blinds, and vacuuming upholstered furniture and mattresses regularly.
- Wear a scarf over your nose and mouth if you have to go out in cold air and avoid exercising in cold air.
- Treat colds and flu as soon as they become evident.
- If stress and anxiety are triggers, learn to manage these with relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and yoga.