Asthma is a chronic inflammatory response in which:
- The immune system responds to allergens or other environmental triggers by sending white blood cells and other immune factors to the airways, thus creating inflammation.
- These factors cause the airways to swell, fill with fluid, and produce a thick, sticky mucus.
- The result is wheezing, breathlessness, inability to exhale properly, and a phlegm-producing cough.
Another name for your airways are bronchi, so asthma is often called bronchial asthma.
How Common Is Asthma?
What Causes It?
What Are the Risk Factors?
Life-Threatening Asthma Attacks
How Is It Diagnosed?
Can It Be Prevented?
What Should You Do Next?
Asthma is a common - and serious - respiratory disorder:
- 31.3 million people (114 people per 1,000) have been diagnosed with asthma at some point during their life.
- Asthma accounts for approximately 4,500 deaths and 465,000 hospitalizations, an estimated 1.8 million emergency room visits, and approximately 10.4 million physician office visits among people of all ages.
- It is the most common chronic childhood illness and accounts for 14 million missed school days every year..
- Asthma in children is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among those younger than 15.
- The number of children dying from asthma increased almost threefold from 93 in 1979 to 266 in 1996.
The causal mechanisms are complex and vary among population groups and even individuals. Possible causes and factors are:
- Asthma in children is highly associated with allergies, although not all asthmatics have allergies.
- Genetic factors that make a child susceptible to environmental triggers, such as infections, dietary patterns, air pollution, and allergens.
- Early lung development, particularly having smaller lungs.
- Western dietary habits (which commonly include more fast foods and less fruits, vegetables, fiber, minerals, and other nutrients).
- Some experts observe that children are spending more time indoors watching television, playing video games, or using the computer and are therefore overexposed to indoor allergens.
- The trend of sealing homes for energy efficiency may result in buildup of dust mite debris.
- Immunizations that prevent many childhood diseases may actually cause changes in the immune system that make people more susceptible to asthma and allergies.
- Low-birth-weight babies, who may be more susceptible.
- Not having been breast fed, which leads to nutrient deficiencies such as omega-3 fatty acids, which protects against inflammation
There are multiple risk factors for asthma:
- Family or personal history of asthma, allergies, hives, or hay fever
- Having smaller lungs
- Not having been breast-fed
- Overexposure to indoor antigens
- Poor ventilation in homes
- Early respiratory infections such as RSV or mycoplasma or chlamydia pneumonia may play a role
- Vaccinations in genetically susceptible children.
- Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is a limited form of the condition where exercise triggers coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
- Aspirin-Induced Asthma. About 10% of asthmatic adults and fewer children have aspirin-induced asthma (AIA). With this condition, asthma gets worse when patients take aspirin. AIA often develops after a viral infection. It is a particularly severe asthmatic condition.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Low stomach acid
- Food allergies
- Increased intestinal permeability
- Nutrient deficiencies, especially antioxidants, vitamin B6 and magnesium
- Essential fatty acid deficiencies
- Tartrazine (yellow dye no. 5) is a known inducer of asthma, particularly in children. Tartrazine is found in many processed foods, many poor-quality vitamin preparations and even in anti-asthma prescription drugs (e.g. aminophylline).
- Food additives and preservatives: benzoates, sulfur dioxide and, in particular, sulfites have been reported to cause asthma attacks in susceptible individuals.
- An overgrowth of the common yeast, Candida albicans, in the gastrointestinal tract has been implicated as a causative factor.
- Wheezing when breathing out
- Wheezing which visibly involves all breathing muscles as it becomes more severe.
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
- Cough (nonproductive)
- Chest tightness or pain.
- Tightening of the neck muscles
- Difficulty speaking
- Rapid heart rate.
- Chest pain
- The end of an attack is often marked by a cough that produces a thick, stringy mucus.
Here's what to look for if you think you may be having an asthma attack:
- Breathing often becomes shallow as the person labors to get their breath.
- The skin becomes bluish due to a lack of sufficient oxygen.
- The flesh around the ribs of the chest appears to be sucked in.
- The person may begin to lose consciousness.
- Medical history
- Family history
- Physical Exam
- Laboratory & Diagnostic tests
- A complete blood count.
- Serum IgE (an antibody associated with allergies and asthma)
- Chest and sinus x-rays.
- Examination of the patients sputum for eosinophils
- Pulmonary functions tests (i.e. spirometry and forced expiratory volume)
- Allergy skin testing may be performed to detect underlying sensitivities
- Blood allergy testing may be performed to detect underlying sensitivities
- Avoidance of asthma triggers
- Treatment includes drug therapy for quick relief of asthma symptoms (asthma inhalers).
- Albuterol, Pirbuterol, Levalbuterol or Bitolterol (inhaled short-acting beta2 agonist)
- Atrovent (anticholinergic)
- Medication for long-term suppression of asthma.
- Aerobid, Azmacort, Beclovent, Flovent, Pulmicort Vanceril (these are inhaled corticosteroids)
- Intal (inhaled cromolyn)
- Tilade (nedocromil sodium)
- Accolate, Singulair, Zyflo (leukotriene receptor antagonist or synthesis inhibitor tablets)
- Slo-Bid, Theo-Dur, Theo-24, Uni-Dur (long-acting theophylline tablets)
- Serevent (inhaled long-acting beta2 agonist)
- Prednisone, prednisolone (oral steroids)
Any plan to address asthma will use some, but not all, of the following treatment suggestions. It is recommended that you seek the advice of a naturopathic or other nutritionally oriented physician for assistance in determining which treatments are right for you, and what the proper therapeutic doses are.
Address underlying causes
Identify and treat underlying causes such as low stomach acid, GERD, intestinal permeability, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies, and candida infection.
Identify and address (control or avoid) underlying triggers of asthma:
- Air pollution
- Tobacco smoke
- Chemicals such as rugs, cleaning supplies, paints, solvents
- Allergens such as pet dander, pollen, dust, dust mites and mold
- Drink enough water.
- Change the diet to remove known aggravating factors including food dyes, colorings, preservatives, additives, and known food allergies.
- Avoid dietary sources of arachidonic acid (derived from animal products) which contribute to inflammation.
- Consume anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids (Omega 3’s) in the form of fatty fish, walnuts, flax seeds, cod liver oil and flax seed oil.
Nutritional supplements such as vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenes, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc, and selenium have been shown to be effective in the treatment of asthma. Studies have shown that low levels of many of these nutrients are associated with asthma.
It is very difficult to get enough Omega 3 essential fatty acids through the diet, particularly because our standard American diet is so heavily weighted toward the Omega 6 EFAs. Supplementation of additional fish oil is an essential component in the long-term treatment.
Herbal medicines are selected based on their action. Herbs might include anti-inflammatory herbs, demulcent herbs, expectorant herbs, and/or“anti-allergic” herbs.
Some specific herbs traditionally used for asthma include: Ephedra sinensis (Ma huang), Lobelia inflata (lobelia),Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), Grindelia camporum (grindelia), Euphorbia hirta (euphorbia), Drosera rotundifolia (sundew), Tylophora Indica (Indian Ipecac), Boswellia serrata (frankincense), Petasites hybridus (butterbur), Urtica dioica (Nettle leaf) and Capsicum frutescens (cayenne).
Some herbs, such as ephedra, should only be used after physician evaluation and with physician supervision.
Flavonoids, especially quercetin, appear to be key antioxidants in the treatment of asthma.
Other Therapies to Consider
- Homeopathic medicine
- Yoga breathing
- Osteopathic Manipulation
Supplement Quality Is Important
Our intention when we use nutritional and botanical supplements is for these treatments to have a physiological effect and clinical benefit, meaning that they are effective and your health improves.
The quality of nutritional supplements in the general marketplace is suspect. In order to get the maximum benefit to your health, be sure you purchase the highest quality nutritional supplements.
Asthma can be prevented or treated by addressing the modifiable risk factors that are involved in the development of asthma.
The doctors at The Connecticut Center for Health are very experienced in the treatment of asthma. If you have (or suspect you have) asthma symptoms and want to learn more about natural treatments for this condition, we recommend that you contact one of our clinics for a free consultation about allegies or an appointment.