Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Breathing is one of the most natural actions for human beings — so natural, in fact, that the majority of people take breathing for granted, though most couldn’t hold their breath for more than a minute without losing consciousness. Many children and adults suffer from asthma attacks that constrict their bronchial tubes and cut off their airways for short periods of time. In the U.S. alone, roughly 25 million people (8% of the population) are living with asthma, and over half of these people have an attack each year. Furthermore, an average of 9 people in the U.S. dies each day from an asthma attack.
Common signs and symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and uncontrollable coughing and wheezing. Holistic techniques now offer powerful ways to respond to asthma attacks and help sufferers manage their conditions in a comprehensive and responsive way.
While the exact cause of asthma in humans is still unknown, we have identified several causes that asthmatics should avoid to reduce their risk of an attack.
Things to avoid include:
First-hand and second-hand smoke from both cigarettes and marijuana, along with smoky work or home environments. Avoid environments where smoke is present and keep strict rules about what is allowed into your personal home and space.
Aerosols and pump sprays, which are used to disperse cleaners, air fresheners, hair products, colognes and perfumes, and other potential allergens into the air. Opt for natural cleaning supplies and fragrance oils that come in jars instead of these products.
Mold and dust, which can be trapped in ventilation systems, walls, carpets, and bathroom or kitchen fixtures and tiles. Use a 5% bleach solution to clean these areas, and get rid of carpets in the home if possible.
Viral and bacterial infections, which lower immune functions. Asthmatics can take dietary supplements that contain Vitamin C, selenium, B complex, folic acid, and zinc to boost their immune systems. Green and chamomile tea also help the body protect itself against colds, flu, and allergens.
Allergens, including animal fur, cockroaches, and pollen from trees, flowers, or grass. Asthmatics should avoid anything in the environment that has caused an asthma attack in the past.
Holistic Asthma Treatments
Asthma comes in many forms and affects people differently, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to stop an attack. But because asthma attacks can be life-threatening, most physicians recommend that patients keep a conventional inhaler on them at all times for emergency use. “Treatment of asthma has two aspects: management of acute attacks and long-term control or prevention,” confirms Dr. Weil, M.D., author of Spontaneous Healing.
Conventional treatments are sometimes the best choices for acute attacks, where immediate relief can be a life-and-death matter.”
Treating asthma without any medication is not commonly recommended, but there are ways to reduce exposure to things that might cause an asthma attack. “In my view,” writes Dr. Weil, “conventional protocols for long-term control are more problematic. Oral steroids (prednisone is the commonest) are very dangerous for asthmatics, because it is too easy to become addicted to them, and toxicity from long-term steroid use is devastating.” Instead, he recommends staying off long-term drugs and using natural remedies when possible.
A number of natural remedies are recommended for long-term management and prevention of the following asthma causes:
Inflammation: Garlic, ginger, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and avocados, and bioflavonoids have natural anti-inflammatory properties and can be taken to inhibit an inflammatory response from the body.
Stress: Pranayama breathing exercises used in yoga can help asthmatics control their asthma symptoms. Yoga in general is a low-impact exercise that helps relieve stress without overworking the lungs.
Allergies: Food and environmental allergies should be avoided at all costs, because they can cause a reaction from the body that can affect an asthmatic’s ability to breathe. A food allergy to wheat, gluten, soy, or sugar might cause an attack. Asthmatics should complete a basic allergy test with a physician, or test these foods safely and moderately to identify an allergy. Environmental allergies to air fresheners and chemical cleaning supplies can also irritate the respiratory system, as will dusty or moldy carpets. Asthmatics should opt for wood floors and natural cleaning products whenever possible.
Strenuous activity: Asthmatics should avoid strenuous activity whenever possible, opting for healthy but low-intensity sports and forms of exercise, such as golf and yoga. Acupuncture can help asthmatics improve and control their breathing, while biofeedback can help asthmatics monitor their heart rate in everyday situations.
Anxiety: Mental exercises, such as imagining the lungs expanding and filling with air, and controlled breathing exercises that focus on inhaling deeply will help keep asthmatics calm during an attack.
Constriction: According to Reader’s Digest, caffeine from coffee and soda and gingko and magnesium supplements can help relax muscles in the upper respiratory tract and open airways. A blend of herbs such as spearmint, thyme, sage, rosemary, cloves, cinnamon, chamomile, and black cumin can also help relax muscles in the trachea, according to Dr. Broadhurst in “Nutrition Science News.” Chewing fennel has also been said to remove constrictive mucus from a person’s airways.
Uncontrolled breathing: The popular Buteyko method of breathing, for example, can help asthmatics correct for hyperventilation by retraining their breathing patterns. This method helps asthmatics to clean, warm, and humidify the air they inhale before it reaches their lungs.
These holistic approaches to asthma can dramatically increase the quality of life and decrease the risk of an attack for asthmatics. But they should be part of a unique, comprehensive plan for each patient. Asthmatics should not try to treat symptoms of asthma on their own — a physician can best tailor a set of holistic methods for dealing with asthma in daily life.