Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways, meaning it is a long-term condition. It reduces the size of your airways when under attack. Imagine your airway to be a hose. With this condition, the walls of the hose become thicker and thicker while the passageway becomes smaller and smaller. Eventually the passageway becomes so small that the feeling is like that breathing off a thin straw. I myself am an asthma sufferer and the feeling is very much like it. You become tired because you have to force yourself to breathe, to suck in air through a very small opening. Sufferers who do not know how to handle an attack, children especially, tend to panic and hyperventilate – rapid but ineffective breathing.
- The Different Treatments:
The condition is caused by several factors but is most often associated to allergens and irritants. Common allergens include dust mites, animal dander, mold, and cockroaches and common irritants include perfume, cigarette smoke, and air pollution. One theory also suggests that because of our heightened awareness to bacteria and viruses, we restrict our children from playing outside, thereby limiting their exposure to microbes and subsequent development of their immune system. Regardless, most sufferers continue to avoid the allergen that brings about the exacerbation of their condition.
Common signs and symptoms of asthma include the characteristic wheezing sound when breathing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Sadly, when left untreated, sufferers may need to be hospitalized and those that are not lucky enough to receive medical care can die. In 2011 alone, asthma caused roughly 250,000 deaths around the world.
- Home-Based Remedies/Personal Care/Natural Options:
The great thing about this condition is that is both reversible and preventable. When under attack, you can quickly stop it by taking in medications. Various other home remedies also abound to help prevent its exacerbation.
Ginger is a well-known natural treatment for various ailments. Its main ingredient gingerol is an anti-inflammatory compound that can help to reduce inflammation of the airway. It can also inhibit airway constriction, which further aggravates the inflammation. Moreover, studies have shown that ginger’s other compounds have a muscle relaxant effect similar to certain medications. Should you want to give ginger a try, here are a few preparations that you can use:
- Mix equal parts ginger juice (ginger ale works as well), pomegranate juice and honey. Take one tablespoon of the mixture two to three times a day.
- Mix one teaspoon of powdered ginger in one and a half cup of water. Take one tablespoon at bedtime.
- Cut up an inch of ginger into several pieces and steep in a cup of boiling water. Let stand for five minutes and drink the tea.
- Chew on raw ginger with a bit of salt.
2. Mustard Oil:
Mustard oil is oil extracted from the mustard seed. In small amounts, mustard oil helps to clear up mucus in the airways. Be warned not to put too much as it can irritate your nose. To use mustard oil, take the following steps:
- Heat some mustard oil with equal parts of camphor.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and when warm, rub onto your chest and back.
- Repeat several times a day.
- Alternatively, you can breathe in the aroma of the mixture to help clear up your airway.
Figs have natural expectorant properties that help to rid your lungs of phlegm building up in your airways, making it harder for you to breathe during an attack. Cut up three to four figs (dried figs are okay too if you cannot find fresh ones) and soak them in water overnight. You can eat the figs in the morning and drink the liquid to help dry up the phlegm.
The humble garlic is another potent anti-inflammatory and a great addition to your food. It also has antibacterial properties, due to the compound allicin, which fight off the bacteria in mucus. Moreover, it is rich in vitamin C and is also a good addition for heart health. Eating garlic 3-4 times a day, adding it to your meals, is a good supplement to your diet and will greatly enhance the flavor of your dishes. Whole-roasted garlic is also highly recommended for its smooth and creamy texture, yet still retaining the great properties of garlic.
Coffee contains the compound theophylline, a bronchodilator. Caffeine too has similar properties to theophylline making coffee a good remedy for asthma. The warmness of a good cup of Joe also helps to melt any mucus in the airways. Drink one to two cups of coffee per day to keep the airways open and to perk up your day!
The oil of eucalyptus is a potent decongestant. It helps to ease the flow and expulsion of mucus, widens the airways, and allows more to air to get through. Other than that, it smells good and freshens up the aroma of your room. Put a few drops of eucalyptus oil on a towel and cover over your mouth and nose while you lie down to breathe in the goodness. If not, you can always use a humidifier.
Medically, honey is a demulcent. It coats passageways to reduce pain and inflammation. Mixing honey with a host of other herbs and spices reduces the inflammation of your airways and opens it up to promote air intake. Nonetheless, you can always take a spoonful of honey if your cupboard is empty.
Onions have similar properties to garlic. They both are sulfur-containing plants and both have anti-inflammatory properties. Eating raw onions definitely helps deliver those important compounds, called phenols, into your body. If you cannot take the pungent taste, you can always cook them and add them to your salad.
Lemons have long been known to have some amazing mucus expelling properties. It is used around the world in various traditional practices including Ayurveda and aromatherapy. Not only does it smell good, it tastes good too! Moreover, lemon has an acidic pH, which makes it antibacterial, helping to remove any unwanted toxins in your body that making causing this illness. To utilize the lemon’s wonderful powers:
- Squeeze one lemon and mix with equal parts of water. Mix and drink up! If it is too sour, you can also add a tablespoon of honey; do not forget to stir.
- Obtain some lemon oil from your local aromatherapy or crafts store. Heat it up to put some fragrance in your room and soothe those airways as a result.
10. Carom Seeds:
Carom seeds or ajwain are used to treat mild asthma as it acts as a bronchodilator. To use these peculiar seeds, try the following preparations:
- Boil a teaspoon of seeds in water and inhale the steam. When you are done, you can also drink the liquid.
- Heat a couple of carom seeds wrapped in a cloth in a microwave for a few seconds. When it is warm, place it on your chest and inhale the aroma until it cools.
- Form a paste of carom seeds and take a teaspoon twice daily for a couple of days.
11. Fenugreek Seeds:
Long been cultivated since the dawn of civilization, fenugreek has been use Middle Eastern cuisine for its sweet aroma. In Ethiopia, it is being used as a natural treatment for diabetes. However, it has also shown to be effective in reducing mucus quantities by helping to expel it and dropping bacterial counts. Soak a scoop of fenugreek seeds overnight. The next morning, crush the seeds and mix with the water. Strain the seeds and drink the water throughout the day to reduce and control symptoms.
Whenever I think of cinnamon, I remember cinnamon buns and apple pie. This spice, ground from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree, has also great restorative properties for respiratory illnesses. Mix a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of cinnamon powder to form a sticky paste. Take before bedtime to allow the honey to coat your airway bringing cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory properties with it.
Raisins, essentially dried grapes, are packed with vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C. Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a powerful antioxidant that can help rid your body of unwanted toxins and allergens that may be causing your frequent asthma attacks. Snack on a cup of raisins or add a few spoons to your salad. You can also soak them overnight and munch on the plump raisins the next day.
Ironically, pepper works by heating you up to reduce inflammation. Heating you up melts the phlegm in your airways and in turn enlarges your airway. I, myself an asthmatic, can attest to the fact that chili peppers work. If you can take the heat, chew a few fresh pepper berries everyday to reduce symptoms. If you can’t take it, I found eating some spicy Korean noodles always helps. The steam from freshly cooked instant noodles and the spiciness of the soup has always brought me great relief and a happy stomach.
This ground yellow powder related to the humble ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory. It has continuously been researched and found to be antioxidant, anti-tumor, antibacterial, and antiviral. With those fantastic properties all laid out, who else would reject turmeric as an all-around remedy? To use turmeric, mix half a teaspoon in some warm water or milk and drink the mixture before bedtime.
16. Omega-3 Supplements:
Omega-3 fatty acids traditionally help in heart health but they have also been found to have some mild anti-inflammatory characteristics. You can buy capsules of omega-3 supplements, use some flax seed oil in your cooking, or have some salmon or mackerel for lunch.
17. Bitter Gourd:
This peculiar vegetable is another fantastic remedy traditionally used to treat cough and other respiratory diseases. It helps to loosen and expel phlegm from the airways clearing the passages. You can take in a juice of a bitter gourd mixed with some honey everyday to soothe the symptoms.
Though no solid evidence exists, this traditional Chinese practice has been known to cure various ailments. If you’re afraid of needles then I would definitely not recommend this. Nevertheless, if you are suffering from chronic attacks, a session or to wouldn’t hurt. After all, what have you got to lose? Just make sure that the acupuncturist is a licensed or accredited practitioner.
19. Yoga, Meditation, and Relaxation:
Asthma is sometimes triggered by stress. As such, a little yoga or meditation goes a long way. A visit to the beach and breathing the saltwater air also helps to relieve the inflammation and melts the mucus.
20. Lifestyle Modification:
A number of environmental factors cause this syndrome and a little lifestyle modification goes a long way. If you are allergic to pet dander, perhaps you may want to bathe your pet everyday to reduce dander floating in the air. If you are irritated by cigarette smoke, perhaps you can ask your significant other to smoke in a specific area to limit breathing the smoke or any second-hand or third-hand smoke. Frequent vacuuming, air filtration, and extermination of dust mites work too to reduce allergens in the environment.
21. Steam Inhalation:
Steam inhalation is a means to introduce moist, warm air into the lungs and airways. Often, oils of peppermint or eucalyptus are added to promote added relief. The steam greatly helps to soften mucus in the airways, promoting its expulsion. It also reduces irritation of dry passages. If you have a vaporizer, you can drops of eucalyptus or peppermint oil to help you breathe better. If you don’t have the device, boil up some water, mix in a few drops of the essential oils, put the bowl of water directly under you, and cover yourself with a blanket. This helps to contain the steam in and around you.
22. Buteyko Breathing Technique:
This technique was developed by a Ukrainian doctor to help reduce hyperventilation during attacks. The method stresses the importance of nasal breathing, which helps to moisten the air getting in your lungs. It also emphasizes the use of breathing exercises wherein you exhale your breath and hold as long as you can comfortably without inhaling.
I am not overly familiar of this technique but I have learned to control my breathing during an attack by controlling my chest muscles. This helps me to avoid hyperventilation, which worsens the attack.
23. Pursed-Lip Breathing:
Another technique I have found useful is pursed-lip breathing. This involved pursing your lips while breathing. This creates pressure in your airways to expand them and relieve the shortness of breath. Moreover, researchers have found that concentrating on breathing helps to reduce the anxiety and stress associated with attacks.
Exercise has long been known to be very effective to sufferers. Running, swimming, and other exercises that improve stamina are highly effective in the long run. The effect of these activities helps to reduce the mucus in your airways and help to increase your lungs efficiency. Should you be suffering from exercise-induced asthma, it helps to take in medications, such as beta-blockers, 30 minutes before your exercise.
25. Orthopneic Position:
The orthopneic position is the best position for those suffering from an attack. It allows the airways to open significantly despite the inflammation and phlegm. When you are having difficulty in breathing, grab one or two chairs and a desk. Sit on one chair and lean either on the desk or on the backrest of the other chair. This straightens your air passages and allows you to breathe better.
- Medical Treatments:
When severe, medications may be prescribed by a physician to the patient. These medications help to either control the condition long-term or to stop the exacerbation in its tracks at the moment.
26. Beta Agonists (-ol and -terol):
Medications ending in –ol such as salbutamol/albuterol and metaproterenol are called short-acting beta-2 agonists. These medications act on the beta-2 adrenergic receptor to put an end to an attack. Specifically, what they do is dilate the airways to allow the patient to breathe normally again.
Medications ending in –terol such salmeterol and formoterol are call long-acting beta-2 agonists. Long-term agonists work by continuously opening the airways longer than the short-term ones, much like a door stop.
These medications, however, do have some minor side effects, which include insomnia, anxiety, increased heart rate, and tremors. When not used properly, they can increase the severity of your condition. You will need to follow the doctor’s instructions to the letter as studies have shown misuse can increase your risk of death.
Delivery of these medications is varied as this is, after all, the first line of defense. They include metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), aerosolization/nebulization, and rarely intravenously. Do make sure to ask your healthcare provider how to use these devices especially when it is your first time to encounter them.
27. Corticosteroids (-sone):
Medications ending in –sone such as prednisone, hydrocortisone, or methylprednisolone are called corticosteroids. These medications are artificial versions of our steroid hormones. They act by reducing inflammation. Remember my hose analogy? Corticosteroids act by thinning back those walls and widening the passageway to allow air in.
Most of these medications are used in conjunction with beta-2 agonists to create a better, long-lasting effect. Long-term use of steroids, however, produces a number of dangerous side effects. Common side effects include weight gain, increased susceptibility to infection, and osteoporosis among others. Always consult with your physician and remind him of the current length of use of steroids. It helps your physician to evaluate whether he can already switch you to safer drugs.
28. Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists (-lukast):
Medications ending in –lukast such as zafirlukast, montelukast, and pranlukast are called leukotriene receptor antagonists or anti-leukotriene agents. They act by opposing the function of leukotrienes, compounds in the body that promote inflammation, reduction of size of the airways, and mucus secretion.
Currently, they are the most prescribed drug for syndrome. They have very few side effects. If your current medication is no longer having the desired effect, your doctor may prescribe you an anti-leukotriene agent. Should there be no improvement in your condition after a month, your doctor may prescribe a higher order of medication.
29. Mast Cell Stabilizers:
Should leukotriene receptor antagonists not do its job, mast cell stabilizers are used. These medications go to the root of the problem. They hit where leukotriene is produced, the mast cells. The most common mast cell stabilizer is cromolyn sodium. They stop the mast cell from releasing leukotriene and histamine, compounds that cause an attack. Mast cell stabilizers also treat hay fever and allergic conjunctivitis.
This medication, however, is used only for prevention. It cannot treat attacks. The downside is that it needs to be administered to the patient four times a day. Leukotriene receptor antagonists have largely superseded this class of medication because of its short life.
30. Monoclonal Antibodies (-mab):
Medications ending in –mab (a combination of M from monoclonal and Ab, the abbreviation of antibody) such as omalizumab are called monoclonal antibodies. There are many monoclonal antibodies with various other properties, some treat cancer, arthritis, bowel inflammation, and rejection in kidney transplants. These antibodies are specially designed to act on different receptors. Omalizumab, for example, works by blocking IgE, molecules that have been highly associated to this disease.
A healthcare provider because of the risk of a severe allergic reaction can only administer this type of medication. It is administered via an injection every 2 or 4 weeks depending on the amount of IgE in your blood and your body weight.
This disease is definitely a dangerous condition but it can be controlled. Make sure to follow your prescription closely. Avoid allergens that cause attacks. Modify your lifestyle to exercise your lungs. Make sure to have a significant other know about your condition, your medications, and the contact information of your physician and nearest hospital. You can never be too prepared as attacks often come without warning.
Missing doses and poor control of allergens can result in a condition called status asthmaticus. This disease will not respond to conventional medications. This requires hospitalization and may warrant the use of mechanical ventilation and stronger drugs. Make sure to heed to your therapy and if taking additional treatments, such as herbal remedies, consult your physician first if it will not conflict with other medications that you are currently taking.