Asthma is a Greek word meaning to breathe hard, which is the main symptom of the condition. It occurs when the walls of the respiratory passage, the airways, overreact to changes in their environment.
When a person suffers from asthma, inhaled allergens or changes in air temperature cause the membranes that line the airways to become swollen and to produce mucus. This causes the tiny muscles in the walls of the airways to go into spasm. Each of these changes causes the airways to narrow and therefore restricts the flow of air. The person affected will suffer shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness.
Causes of asthma
The underlying causes are uncertain, but we know asthma tends to run in families, particularly those prone to other allergic conditions. Children of low birth weight and those who are overexposed to allergens on their first year of life are most at risk, especially if their parents smoke.
If you have a tendency to asthma, it can be set off by exposure to allergic and non allergic triggers. Allergic triggers include:
- Inhaled allergens, such as house dust mite feces, pollens and mold spores. Animal danders and also feathers
- Food and drink, food additives and certain medicines, including aspirin and related medicines, and beta blockers (used to treat high blood pressure)
- Smoky places, 7 out of 10 children in one survey said smoke made their asthma worse
- Occupational allergens
Non allergic triggers include
- Changes in temperature, especially going from a warm house into cold air
- Emotional stress
- Hormones, many women are more prone to asthma just before their periods
What you can do when asthma happens
- Take your medication as prescribed. Asthma is a serious condition; conventional therapy controls most people’s symptoms very effectively and enables children to grow normally. Always talk to your doctor first before changing your medication or embarking on alternative treatment
- Try to identify and, if possible, avoid the triggers that cause your symptoms. Conventional skin and blood tests can usually identify allergic triggers, and neutralization or homeopathic desensitization may help
- If necessary, improve your diet, and try to eat foods that contain magnesium, as this helps the muscles that line the airway to relax
- Do breathing exercise and the Buteyko method and take regular, gentle exercise
- Consider following a low salicylate diet, especially if aspirin makes your symptoms worse, and reducing your intake of food additives
- Even if conventional tests are negative, you may obtain relief if you identify and exclude foods to which you are intolerant. Be aware, however, that asthmatics sometimes experience severe reactions when reintroducing foods, so you will need personal medical supervision
- Helpful alternative therapies include western herbalism, osteopathy, chiropractic, yoga, acupuncture, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, autogenic training and biofeedback
The Buteyko method, developed by Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s, is best taught by a practitioner, but if you do not have access to one, try the following
- Sit comfortably in an upright chair. Breathe in, then out, and hold your nose. Pause for as long as you can. Try to practice four times a day, followed by three minutes of shallow breathing and then two medium pauses
- Breathe through your nose at all times, if possible, and try to avoid gulping air
- Do not lie down, except to sleep, and, when sitting, try to remain upright.
Herbal remedies can also be beneficial for asthma, but avoid steam inhalations, as these can precipitate an attack of asthma. You could try the following:
- Roman chamomile: add 2-3 drops of the essential oil to a saucer of warm water and leave in your bedroom at night. Avoid during pregnancy
- Eucalyptus : place a few drops of essential oil on your pillow, or add a few drops of 25ml of carrier oil for a chest rub
- Aloe Vera: taken by mouth, may be beneficial for asthma. In one study, a teaspoonful of a 20 percent solution taken twice a day over 6 months relieved asthma in people who did not require steroid medication
- White horehound : taken as an infusion, tincture or syrup