Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition in which the lining of an individual’s lungs are inflamed or swollen, which makes them more sensitive than the average person to things like dust or animal hair.
While no cure for asthma exists, individuals have been able to abate the symptoms of the condition by practicing yoga, taking herbal remedies, consuming caffeinated products such as coffee or chocolate, and using a number of other natural products.
Causes of Asthma
The root cause of asthma is still a mystery. Asthma is caused by inflammation or swelling in the lungs, which make the individual more likely to have a reaction to dust or hair in the air around them. When an individual with asthma breathes in dust, hair, or any other inflammatory substance, they have what is called an asthma attack, where the muscles in the lungs spasm and tighten. Then, the swelling in the lungs becomes worse, and mucus clogs the airways, meaning it becomes extremely difficult to breathe.
Prevention of Asthma
While the condition of asthma itself cannot be prevented, asthma attacks can often be abated. Generally, prevention is most easily accomplished by identifying the cause of the attack for the individual, and then eliminating that cause. Asthmatics should not smoke and should not be around persons who are smoking (even being around people with smoke in the clothes or hair may trigger an attack).
Other ways to prevent asthma attacks include: putting pillows and mattresses in allergy-proof casings to prevent exposure to dust mites; reducing clutter around the house and keeping stuffed animals out of bedrooms; using comforters, pillows, and mattresses that do not have feathers or down in them; keeping indoor humidity levels low (between 35 and 50 percent); using unscented detergents, fabric softeners, and cleaning products; keeping pets out of bedrooms and outdoors if possible; bathing pets weekly and vacuuming frequently; preventing cockroach infestation by keeping the kitchen clean and sanitary, and using roach traps to kill them if necessary.
Asthma attacks may also be prevented by using inhaled steroids. Inhaled steroids are taken on a regular basis, even if an attack is not imminent. Another method of preventing asthma attacks in immunotherapy, where an individual is given a series of injections which are designed to reduce or prevent reactions to certain normal asthmatic triggers.
Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma is marked by wheezing, shortness of breath, as well as early morning and late night coughing spells. If left untreated, it can also be fatal. During an asthma attack, the lungs become so clogged and swollen that it is difficult for an individual to breathe. Asthma attack frequency varies by the individual, occurring as often as several times a day for some sufferers. The attacks themselves may last a few minutes or up to days at a time.
Asthma attacks may be caused by a number of different things. Often, attacks are caused by the inhalation of allergens like dust mites, animal hair, cockroach allergens, pollen, and mold. Additionally, breathing in tobacco smoke, air pollution, cold air, fungi, chemicals, scented products (such as perfume or cologne), and fumes from burning word or gas may trigger an asthma attack. Exercise may also cause the attacks, though this can be prevented by using an inhaler. Finally, attacks may be triggered by having a cold, ingesting sulfites from wine or dried fruits, stress, aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and from food or drug allergies.
How Asthma is Diagnosed
Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children, though it also is an issue for many adults as well. Often, persons with asthma are diagnosed because of wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when breathing), though not all asthmatics wheeze. Others are diagnosed because of coughing spells either early in the morning or late at night. Trouble breathing during exercise is another signal that a person may have asthma.
Doctors diagnose asthma by first listening to a person’s lungs with a stethoscope. However, if an attack is not occurring, they may not be able to hear anything out of the ordinary. Next, the doctor will use a spirometer, which measures vital capacity (the largest amount of air that can be inhaled or exhaled), peak flow rate (which measures the fastest speed at which an individual can blow air out of their lungs), and forced expiratory volume (the largest amount of air that can be exhaled in one second). Once the doctor has tested the patient with the spirometer, they give the patient a fast-acting bronchodilator to open up the patient’s lungs, and then repeat the spirometer test to see if results are improved. If the results improve, it is likely that patient has asthma.
If tests are inconclusive, additional tests such as chest and sinus X-rays, complete blood counts, CT scans, GORD assessments, and sputum examinations may be ordered.
Asthma Possible Treatments
While asthma cannot be cured, it may be treated so that it does not interfere with normal everyday activity such as school, work, and exercise. Individuals often use long-acting treatments which prevent asthma, or short-acting treatments which relieve an attack once it has begun to occur.
Other asthma sufferers have looked to yoga to help treat the condition. Yoga teaches breathing exercises and helps individuals relax, which reduces stress levels and improves lung function. Individuals using yoga to help treat asthmas usually take classes at least once per week.
Other individuals have turned to herbal remedies to help treat asthma. Sufferers of asthma may take an Ayurdevic herb called Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) in 300 to 400 mg doses three times per day. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to decrease inflammation in the airways. Finally, selenium supplements, up to 100 mcg per day, may help chronic asthmatics.
Another alternative, and perhaps more tasty option, is caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, sodas, cocoa, and chocolate. All of these options are derived from natural plants and herbs, and contain compounds that can help prevent asthma attacks. These compounds, theobromine and theophylline, are natural anti-asthma substances which belong to a family of chemicals called xanthenes (caffeine is also part of this family). These compounds help to naturally stop spasms in the lungs.
Another compound shown to be effective in treating asthmatics is ephedra (ephedra sinica). In fact, the Chinese have been using ephedra to treat asthma for thousands of years. While large doses of ephedra can be quite dangerous, it can be very effective in treating asthma when used carefully.
Other possible treatments for asthma include the following: drinking the juice from a stinging nettle plant or boiling the plant leaves in water and drinking the extract; drinking licorice extract (up to 3 cups per day); ingesting small amounts of gingko biloba extract; ingesting bee pollen or honey; aromatherapy; acupuncture sessions; regulation of diet (food allergies may help cause asthmatic attacks); and taking vitamin B6 supplements.
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