Asthma: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Management & Remedies
Asthma has become one of the most common chronic disease. Causes of rise in asthma include changes in dietary habits, environmental pollutants, indoor lifestyles, and an increase in obesity. This inflammatory condition usually begins in childhood. Symptoms include a cough that’s typically worse at night and in the early morning, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, and increased respiratory rate. The airways become inflamed, swollen, constricted, and congested with excess mucus. It’s like trying to breathe through a straw.
A combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors causes asthma. Part of the treatment involves identifying and avoiding (or preparing for) triggers. Triggers for an attack vary and include the following:
- • Respiratory infections
- • Airway irritants (e.g., perfume, dust, air pollution, and smoke from tobacco, marijuana, or wood burning)
- • Allergies (e.g., food, pollen, dander, mold, dust mites, and cockroaches)
- • Weather (e.g., cold air or a drop in barometric pressure)
- • Exercise
- • Strong emotions (e.g., anger)
- • Gastroesophageal reflux (e.g., heartburn)
Medications don’t cure asthma; rather, they help keep the condition under control. The drug regimen depends upon whether the symptoms are intermittent or persistent. Inhaled bronchodilators open the airway to nip an attack in the bud. For persistent asthma, inhaled anti-inflammatory medications are taken daily. It’s important to follow the treatment plan. That said, a number of foods and exercises can gently and safely support lung health. Natural asthma remedies include acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, massage therapy, biofeedback, homeopathy, dietary improvements, and dietary supplements, such as herbs, vitamins, and minerals.
Such remedies as deep abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and regular massage can help relieve emotional stress, which can aggravate asthma. Dietary changes are important for avoiding known food triggers and maximizing intake of natural antioxidants.
OMEGA-PACKED SALMON FILLETS
2 salmon fillets (6 to 8 ounces, or 170 to 225 g each)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons (14 g) bread crumbs
½ teaspoon dried tarragon
1 tablespoon (15 g) Dijon mustard Pinch of paprika
Lemon slices, for garnish
Preparation and Use: Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C, or gas mark 8). Rinse the salmon fillets and pat them dry. Lightly grease a glass baking dish with the olive oil. Place the fish skin side down in the dish. Mix the tarragon into the mustard and spread over the fish. Sprinkle each fillet with the bread crumbs and paprika. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until just past pink in the center. Don’t overdo the baking time, or your fish will be dry and unappealing. If you keep it pink in the center and cook it until it just flakes at the touch of a fork, this omega-3 powerhouse is divine. Top with the lemon slices and serve. The omega-3 fatty acids in high-oil fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, are anti-inflammatory. Studies suggest that diets higher in the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may improve asthma.
ANTIOXIDANT-RICH WALDORF SALAD
6 tablespoons (75 g) plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons (28 ml) fresh lemon juice
¹∕8 teaspoon each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (100 g) chopped celery
1 cup (150 g) sliced seedless red grapes
2 large red sweet apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cup (100 g) walnuts
Pinch of paprika
Celery leaves, for garnish
Preparation and Use: This recipe is refreshing, easy to make, and contains a number of ingredients that promote lung health. In a large bowl, whip the yogurt and lemon juice together. Stir in the salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix the celery, grapes, apple, and walnuts. Pour the yogurt mixture over the fruit mixture until fully covered. Stir to combine. Add a pinch of paprika to each serving. Garnish with the celery leaves. Apples, grapes, and celery leaves are high in flavonoids (water-soluble plant pigments that benefit health) and vitamin C. Both are antioxidant. People with chronic lung conditions, such as asthma, often have low levels of antioxidants, perhaps because this inflammatory condition depletes them. It is found that vitamin C supplementation helped protect against exercise-induced asthma. It is found that more fresh fruit in the diet improves asthma. Also, the beneficial bacteria in yogurt promote gut health. Whether eating yogurt improves asthma isn’t yet known, but it does seem to fortify immune function.
Autumn is the perfect time of year to enjoy those colourful, carotene-rich pumpkins, which are members of the squash family.
1 pumpkin (3 pounds, or 1.36 kg) washed, cut in half, and seeded
¹∕3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
2 tablespoons (28 ml) balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon (2 g) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (7 g) honey
1 tablespoon (14 g) unsalted butter
Preparation and Use: Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C, or gas mark 7). Cut the pumpkin into ten wedges. Put the wedges on a baking sheet. Mix the olive oil and vinegar together, pour over the pumpkin, and toss until the pumpkin is covered. Spread the wedges in a single layer across the sheet. Sprinkle each wedge with cinnamon. Roast for about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and top the inside of each wedge with a tiny pat of butter. Enjoy the pumpkin by scooping it out of the skin. Pumpkins, yellow squash, carrots, bell peppers, and other orange-hued vegetables and fruits get their pigment from carotenoids, powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and maintain respiratory linings. It is found that a supplement containing a mixture of carotenes helped to prevent exercise-induced asthma.
ICED COFFEE PICK-ME-UP
2 cups (475 ml) water
¼ cup (55 g) ground dark roast coffee
¼ cup (78 g) sweetened condensed milk, divided
8 ice cubes
Preparation and Use: Brew the coffee. Pour half of the condensed milk into each of two mugs. Divide the hot coffee between the mugs. Stir until the milk is dissolved. Fill two tall glasses with four ice cubes each. Gradually pour each portion of hot coffee over the ice and stir to chill (for a thinner, cooler drink, add more cubes). Recipe Variation: On chilly days, try this coffee hot—just leave out the ice cubes and add a pinch of ground cinnamon.
It is found that caffeine modestly improves lung function for up to 4 hours in people with asthma. Avoid late afternoon or evening intake, which could interfere with a good night’s sleep. Caffeine is related to theophylline, an asthma medication that helps open airways, reducing breathlessness.
EUCALYPTUS CHEST RUB
The smell alone of this soothing rub brings respiratory relief.
1 tablespoon (15 ml) unscented lotion, olive oil, or (15 g) petroleum jelly
2 drops eucalyptus essential oil
Preparation and Use: Blend the lotion and essential oil in a small, clean jar. Rub the mixture onto your chest: Start with a small amount to see how you respond to eucalyptus. Inhale deeply as you work. You’re drawing some of those aromatic, medicinal oils into your lungs. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your eyes, nose, or other sensitive mucous membranes. If you have any remaining rub, store it in the jar and cap tightly. Eucalyptus has anti-inflammatory, expectorant effects. It may also help open the airways by relaxing the encircling muscles. It is found that a special preparation taken internally eased asthma symptoms and reduced the need for medications. However, it is not safe to take eucalyptus essential oil by mouth. Plant essential oils are highly concentrated. Many are toxic when taken internally.
BENEFICIAL TUNA WITH BRAZIL NUTS
Once you’ve enjoyed this dish hot from the oven, keep up your omega-3s by putting the leftovers in tuna salad sandwiches (mix with plain yogurt and a little lemon instead of mayonnaise).
4 tuna medallions (4 ounces, or 115 g each)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup (33 g) crushed Brazil nuts Lemon wedges, for garnish
Preparation and Use: Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C, or gas mark 7). Rinse the tuna medallions and pat dry. Brush each side with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll the medallions in the crushed nuts. Coat a glass baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Bake the tuna for 15 to 20 minutes until the center is just past pink. Brazil nuts and seafood are excellent sources of selenium, an antioxidant that works against inflammation. At least two studies have shown that people who consumed selenium in their diet were less likely to have asthma than were those who did not. Tuna is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in airways. One survey showed that families that ate oily fish high in omega-3s, such as tuna, sardines, and salmon, had a nearly three times’ lower percentage of children with asthma than families that did not.
Enjoy this soothing beverage throughout the day, especially before bed.
1 cup (235 ml) milk
1 teaspoon (2 g) ground turmeric
Preparation and Use: Heat the milk to your desired warmth, but do not boil it. Stir in the turmeric. Drink this mixture up to three times daily. This Indian spice is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Preliminary research suggests that concentrated extracts of turmeric and other anti-inflammatory herbs can improve some aspects of asthma. The fat in milk can improve intestinal absorption of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric.
Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia and have long been used to manage coughs and asthma.
1 quart (946 ml) water
1 to 2 drops eucalyptus essential oil, or ¼ cup (6 g) crushed, dried eucalyptus leaves
Preparation and Use: Boil the water. Turn off the heat. If using eucalyptus essential oil, remove the pot from the burner. First try inhaling the steam. If steam alone doesn’t trigger asthmatic coughing, add 1 drop of eucalyptus oil. Lean in gradually. If the eucalyptus vapours don’t trigger coughing, you can add the second drop of essential oil. Cover your head with a clean towel to entrap the steam. Breathe through your mouth slowly and deeply for 1 to 2 minutes. If using dried eucalyptus leaves, add them to the pot, cover, and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lid. If you no longer have steam, heat the liquid again—just to the boiling point—and remove from the burner. Lean over the steam and cover your head with a clean towel. Breathe slowly and deeply. If the steam triggers coughing or seems to worsen your asthma in any way, stop. Inhaling steam helps to relax airways, increase circulation, and thin respiratory mucus, which makes it easier to expel. The eucalyptus is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and expectorant. A 2003 study found that an oral preparation of a key chemical in eucalyptus (eucalyptol) had an anti-inflammatory effect in people with asthma and reduced the need for steroids. (Plant essential oils, including eucalyptus essential oil, however, should not be taken by mouth.)
Note: For some people with asthma, essential oil vapours trigger coughing.
Eat a handful of baby carrots every day for a carotenoid boost—to help keep respiratory linings strong and counter inflammation. But don’t overdo it. Your skin can turn yellow from too much of a good thing.
Keep living spaces, especially bedrooms, clean and dust-free. Use pillows filled with polyester, not feather or down, and cover them with dust mite-proof pillowcases. Wash bedding weekly in hot water. Vacuum or wipe down bedspreads once a week.
Breathe clean air. Steer clear of smoke-filled rooms or of strong odours from perfume, air fresheners, or paint. On days of heavy pollen or outdoor pollution, stay indoors, close windows, and use air-conditioning as necessary.
Check out your allergic reactions. Eighty percent of people who suffer asthma attacks are allergic to airborne particles that come from mold, pollen, trees and grasses, animal dander, and cockroach droppings.
Fact or Myth?
People with asthma should not exercise.
Myth. Physical activity conditions the lungs, heart, muscle, bones, and brain. Enjoyable exercise is a great stress buster. Swimming is thought to be a good exercise for people with asthma because of the breathing patterns typical of that sport. If you have exercise-induced asthma, you may need to use your inhaler before you start. Check with your doctor about that. Cold, dry air can also aggravate asthma. In that case, indoor activities may be the ticket.
When Simple Doesn’t Work
Preliminary research suggests that standardized, concentrated extracts of some herbs may hold modest benefits for people with asthma. They include ginkgo, coleus, long pepper, curcumin (an active ingredient in turmeric), and pycnogenol (from French maritime pine). Herbalists often recommend horehound and mullein as general lung tonics. However, check with your health provider before taking any herbs or other dietary supplements.
When to Call the Doctor
• You’re having trouble breathing
• You suspect you or your child might have asthma.
• You have asthma and have any questions about your condition.
Hygiene Hypothesis: Get Dirty
The increase in asthma and allergy rates is called the hygiene hypothesis. Basically, our immune systems were designed to cope with a germy world. Unless you live on a farm, post-industrial-era life can be relatively sterile. Theoretically, exposure to microbes and parasitic worms early in life matures the immune system, priming it to fight microbes rather than such innocuous things as pollen and dander.
A lack of exposure tips the immune system toward inflammation and allergic tendencies. So does use of antibiotics in the first year of life. In addition, children born by caesarean section face a higher risk of allergies and asthma. That’s because passage through the birth canal inoculates infants with bacteria that normally populate skin, upper respiratory tract, gut, and other surfaces. The development of healthy gut bacteria positively shapes the immune system. Proponents of the theory point out that kids who attend day care early in life or grow up in larger families or around barnyard animals (or at least dogs) are less likely to develop asthma, hay fever, and eczema. Critics point out that asthma rates have soared among inner-city children, who may live in dirty, cockroach-infested apartments. Other possible culprits include the increase in consumption of junk food, inactivity, and obesity.
On the other hand, many people have no interest in returning to the days when children perished from serious infections in the first years of life. We can all be thankful for clean drinking water and sanitation. Meantime, here’s how you can expose yourself and your family members to reasonable levels of germs. Spend time outdoors. Recreate. Garden. Play with a dog. Afterward, wash your hands with plain soap and water. And if you have asthma aggravated by dust mites and cockroaches, keep a clean house and enclose pillows and mattresses in airtight covers.