Natural approaches to living with asthma: all you want to do is breathe deeply and fully. You want to fill your lungs with oxygen and feel satisfied. You want to do it rhythmically and naturally, without gasping for air, without fear or panic. But for 7% of the U.S population the natural act of breathing often feels impossible. These are the people with asthma.
They describe having an asthma attack as being suddenly submerged in water and trying to breathe through it. Or an elephant sitting on their chest.
While it’s the same for everyone in many ways, it’s also different for everyone, and even a person who has lived with asthma for a long time can have varying symptoms depending on their age and what triggers an episode.
This means that treating asthma requires a highly individualized approach and a holistic physician skilled at getting to the root causes and providing long-lasting healing approaches to living with asthma.
Who is most likely to have Asthma?
Among the 25 million people in the U.S. who have asthma, it occurs most frequently in children under age 10.
But it’s not just young children who are afflicted. Seven million children age 10 – 17 – and millions of adults have asthma. Worldwide, it affects adults into their 80’s, making asthma a chronic disease that affects people throughout the lifespan.
How do I know if I have Asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by difficulty breathing due to narrowing of the airways leading to the lungs, including the nasal passageways, mouth and larynx.
Symptoms are triggered by things that irritate the air passageways and immune system. When a person is having an asthma attack, they describe experiencing all or some of these symptoms:
- Wheezing with inhalation and exhalation
- Dry, hard cough
- Shortness of breath
- Spasm of breathing muscles due to the effort of trying to breathe
An attack usually comes on suddenly but can be more gradual depending upon the trigger. It can disappear quickly, but if prolonged and severe enough, an asthma attack can result in death.
The Causes of Asthma: Two Viewpoints
There are important differences between conventional and lifestyle medicine physicians in how they view the causes and treatment of asthma. Understanding these differences can help you make informed choices regarding medical treatment.
Conventional medical practitioners recognize many of the factors that contribute to a diagnosis of asthma, including family history (it’s inherited from a parent who has asthma), frequent episodes of upper respiratory infection, a faulty response to intense exercise, and environmental triggers such as allergens, smoke or pollen.
Conventional treatment, however, is primarily focused on managing symptoms and curtailing acute asthma attacks without fully addressing the underlying causes.
While a steroid inhaler may be a lifesaving component of treatment, it’s not without side effects such as weight gain, suppressing immunity, and disrupting endocrine and metabolic function.
Lifestyle medicine physicians take into account all the factors a conventional doctor considers, and then they digger deeper to identify potential root causes, which might include:
- Food sensitivities / allergies
- Environmental irritants (at home, school, and work)
- Poor eating habits
- Nutrient deficiencies and absorption issues
- Stress and mental-emotional health
- Seasonal allergies
- Digestive system function
- Frequent use of prescription antibiotics
- History of eczema treated with conventional approaches
A lifestyle medicine physician will look at how conventional drug therapies that suppress immunity may have affected your immune system, resulting in asthma.
Critical Warning: if you are seeking treatment from a lifestyle medicine physician and if you are currently using an inhaler to treat asthma – do not stop using it!
This could result in status asthmaticus, which is potentially fatal if a patient stops suddenly without the supervision of a properly trained doctor of natural medicine who has identified the root cause of the asthma and implemented a treatment plan.
A Natural Approach to Managing Asthma
From a natural medicine approach, asthma symptoms can usually be improved or resolved with lifestyle changes and treatments that address the underlying breaches of good health.
Depending upon the age of the patient, specific symptoms, and medical history, treatment might include:
- Taking nutritional supplements that help reduce inflammation (antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids); support gut health (probiotics); support immunity (Vitamin D); relax muscles (magnesium); and aid the body in coping with stress (zinc)
- Customizing herbal remedies to specific triggers and symptoms
- Adjusting the diet to remove food irritants and allergens
- Enhancing the diet with high nutrient foods that support respiratory health
- Practicing stress management such as yoga, visualization, and breathing exercises
- Coordinating with your physician to choose appropriate types of exercise and managing intensity so as not to trigger an asthma attack
These are just a few examples of possible treatment approaches. A trained lifestyle medicine physician will conduct a thorough examination and formulate an individualized treatment plan based on your medical history and immediate healthcare needs.
Start Today: Six Ways to Help Manage Your Asthma
- Improve your diet with nutrient dense foods: crispy, colorful vegetables, a variety of fruits and whole grains (if appropriate for you); avoid milk and dairy, and drink plenty of fresh, filtered water.
- Practice deep breathing exercises, (a.k.a.) diaphragmatic breathing. These exercises help train the respiratory muscles and improve the quality of breathing, especially during stressful times. Your doctor can suggest the breathing exercises that will be most helpful for your asthma triggers and symptoms.
- Use air filters at home and the office and replace them every three months or according to the seasonal schedule for your hvac system. Avoid sitting or sleeping below or adjacent to air conditioning/heating ventilation panels.
- Don’t smoke and try to avoid being around smokers. Tobacco smoke is the biggest indoor air pollutant implicated in asthma.
- Use face protection when you are using cleaning supplies, working with chemicals (e.g., pesticides, paint and building materials) or are in a high pollution area such as major cities.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations for dietary and environmental changes, as well as use of both conventional and holistic medications.
While asthma can be life-threatening, under the care of a properly trained physician, the root cause, or causes, can be identified, treated and the condition resolved.