Asthma, also called reactive airway disease, is a chronic and recurring condition in which the bronchial passages-the tubes that go to the lungs-become swollen, inflamed, and narrow, making it very difficult for the person to breathe. This happens when the person is exposed to something they’ve very sensitive to.
An asthma attack can be brought on by a number of triggers, including irritants in the air (like smoke, dust or chemicals), emotional stress, respiratory infections, exercise, and even some drugs, like aspirin and beta blockers (used to treat high blood pressure, heart problems, and migraines). Asthma affects about 5% of the population, and can be hereditary.
Traditional medical treatment for asthma includes the following:
– oral medications like bronchodilators and leukotriene inhibitors. Bronchodilators open up bronchial passages to allow air to flow more freely, and leukotriene inhibitors restrict the action of leukotriene, a substance produced by the body that causes bronchial narrowing and swelling.
– steroids, which are very powerful inflammation fighters. Many times these will be used as inhalers, to put their effect right where it’s needed, but in serious or chronic cases they may also be taken orally.
– oxygen for serious attacks
Traditional treatment is very strong and can be quite effective in controlling the symptoms of asthma. However, it can create problems of its own.
Steroids, for example, can interact with many other drugs, including commonly taken ones like aspirin and anti-diabetic medications. They can have potentially harmful side effects, including serious heart problems. Long-term use of steroids-which unfortunately can be common in people who have severe asthma-can increase your susceptibility to infection and lead to insufficiency of the adrenal glands. And steroids are useful only in the prevention of asthma attacks; they don’t help if they’re taken during an attack.
Leukotriene inhibitors are also not helpful during acute attacks, or for exercise-induced asthma. They need to be taken on a regular basis as a preventative.
Bronchodilators can be helpful during acute attacks. But they, too can have serious side effects, including seizures and heart irregularities. And they can interact with many other drugs, including beta blockers, oral contraceptives, and some antibiotics.
Magnesium, a mineral, can help relieve bronchial spasms during an asthma attack. If you find that magnesium helps you then, you can take it on a regular basis-every day-to help prevent further attacks. Avoid these extra doses, though, if you have low blood pressure or kidney problems.
Vitamin C may help exercise-induced asthma. It seems to both reduce inflammation and make bronchial passages less reactive to conditions that can trigger an attack. It may also be useful for other types of asthma.
Bioflavonoids are substances in plants that regulate their growth. They can help with both inflammation and allergic reactions. They’re found in many fruits and vegetables, but are also available in supplement form; examples are grape seed extract, quercetin, and pycnogenol.
Antioxidants help eliminate the free radicals (substances that can cause cell damage) released during an asthma attack. The antioxidants which seem to most useful for asthma are vitamin C (which is concentrated in the lining of the lungs), vitamin E (which attacks free radicals caused by air pollution), and selenium (a trace mineral that assists the action of vitamins C and E).
Omega 3 essential fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect, and can also help reduce damage to tissues after an asthma attack. Omega 3s are found in the oil of fish like tuna and salmon, and in flax oil.
If you’d like to use some of these remedies, but have serious asthma that requires strong medication on a regular basis, check with your doctor first. Your doctor should always know if you’re adding anything to your regular treatment, and besides, there may be other choices that would be better for your particular condition.
A final note: If you have asthma or any other respiratory problem, and you smoke, please find a way to stop. This one step, difficult as it can be, may be more helpful than palliative measures like medications.