Asthma is chronic inflammation of the airways resulting from swelling and excessive mucus. The airways may be further blocked when an irritant, or trigger, causes spasms of the bronchial passage. This can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
- Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or wheezing
- Chest tightness or constriction
- Cough (can be the only symptom)
- Skin turning blue (cyanosis)
What Causes Asthma?
- Sensitivity to allergens in the air, such as dust, cockroach waste, animal dander, mold, pollens
- Food allergies
- Respiratory infections
- Air pollutants, such as tobacco, aerosols, perfumes, fresh newsprint, diesel particles, sulfur dioxide, elevated ozone levels, and fumes from paint, cleaning products, and gas stoves
- Changes in the weather, especially in temperature and humidity
- Behaviors that affect breathing (exercising, laughing, crying)
What to Expect at Your Health Care Provider’s Office
Your health care provider will probably check your blood pressure, listen to your chest and back with a stethoscope, and take blood samples. He or she may also order an electrocardiogram (EKG) or chest or sinus X-rays to make sure your asthma is not a symptom of a more serious condition.
Treatment Options for Asthma
Treatment Plan for Asthma
You can help control your asthma by avoiding the irritants or triggers that cause your asthma attacks to begin. Be very careful to take all prescribed medications. They can prevent future asthma attacks. They can also help to avoid serious problems or death during an attack. Get medical help immediately if your medication does not stop an attack. Your health care provider may prescribe oxygen for a severe attack.
Drug Therapies for Asthma
- Anti-inflammatory drugs—used to prevent attacks; contain steroids; may be given intravenously or by inhaler; side effects include coughing and oral thrush
- Bronchodilators—used during or at the onset of an attack; given by inhaler, nebulizer, or intravenously depending upon severity; side effects depend on the exact drug you take
Over the Counter
- Cromolyn sodium—an anti-inflammatory drug used to prevent attacks; does not contain steroids; taken by inhaler; may cause coughing
Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Asthma
Asthma may relate to stress and anxiety. Mind-body techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, tai chi, yoga, and stress management can help.
Nutrition for Asthma
Note: Lower doses are for children.
- Eliminate all food allergens from your diet. Common food allergens are dairy, soy, citrus, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, shellfish, eggs, corn, food colorings, and additives. An elimination trial may help determine food sensitivities. Remove suspected allergens from your diet for two weeks. Re-introduce one food every three days. Watch for reactions such as gastrointestinal upset, mood changes, headaches, and worsening of asthma. Check with your health care provider before doing this test.
- Reduce pro-inflammatory foods in your diet, including saturated fats (meats, especially poultry, and dairy), refined foods, and sugar.
- Increase intake of vegetables, grains, legumes, onions, and garlic.
- Vitamin C (250 to 1,000 mg two to four times per day) taken one hour before exposure to an allergen may reduce allergic reactions. Rose hips or palmitate do not cause allergic reactions.
- B6 (50 to 200 mg per day) may improve symptoms. Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P), a form of B6, may be more readily used by your body.
- Magnesium (200 mg two to three times per day) relaxes bronchioles.
- Consider hydrochloric acid supplementation to decrease the number and severity of food sensitivities and aid absorption of some nutrients.
- B12 deficiency may increase reactivity to sulfites.
- N-acetyl cysteine (50 to 200 mg three times per day) and selenium (50 to 200 mcg per day) protect lung tissue from damage.
Herbal Remedies for Asthma
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers; 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.
- Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is a powerful antioxidant.
- For long-term lung support, combine equal parts of the following herbs in a tea. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina), elecampane (Inula helenium), plantain (Plantago major), and skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia). Do not take licorice if you have high blood pressure. Prolonged use of coltsfoot can damage the liver; look for a “pyrrolizidine alkaloid-free” label.
- Essential oils that may help are elecampane, frankincense, lavender, mint, and sage. Add 4 to 6 drops in a bath, atomizer, or humidifier.
Homeopathy Remedies for Asthma
Some of the most common remedies used for asthma are listed below. Usually, the dose is 12X to 30C every one to four hours until your symptoms get better.
- Arsenicum album for asthma with restlessness and anxiety
- Ipecac for constant constriction in the chest with a bad cough
- Pulsatilla for asthma with pressure in chest and air hunger
- Sambucus for asthma that wakes you with a sensation of suffocation
Cold compresses to the chest during acute attacks may lessen severity.
Contrast hydrotherapy may decrease inflammation, relieve pain, and aid healing. Alternate three minutes hot application to the chest with one minute cold. Repeat three times for one set; do two to three sets per day.
Castor oil pack. Apply oil directly to chest, cover with a clean soft cloth and plastic wrap. Apply a heat source on top; let sit 30 to 60 minutes.
Acupuncture may reduce frequency and intensity of asthma attacks.
Massage may reduce stress, easing reactions to allergens.
Your provider may give you a peak-flow meter to use at home to closely monitor your condition.
Supporting Research on Asthma
Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset, England: Grace Publishers; 1995:40–41.
Hope BE, Massey DB, Fournier-Massey G. Hawaiian materia medica for asthma. Hawaii Med J. 1993;52:160–166.
Kruzel T. The Homeopathic Emergency Guide. Berkeley, Calif: North Atlantic Books; 1992:21–27.
Middleton E, ed. Allergy: Principles and Practice. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby-Year Book, Inc; 1998.
Monteleone CA, Sherman AR. Nutrition and asthma. Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:23–24.
Murray MT, Pizzorno JE. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1998:150–155.
Rakel RE, ed. Conn’s Current Therapy. 50th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 1998.
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