Written by Dr. Burke
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a common respiratory disease where the airway becomes restricted, creating wheezing, cough, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma symptoms can be a minor nuisance or life threatening. There is usually some type of trigger for asthma, whether it is exercise induced or related to airborne allergies or an acute respiratory infection. Some people may also find that cold air, air pollutants, certain medications, or strong emotions can be a trigger for them.
Asthma affects approximately 18.7 million adults and 7 million children in the United States and is becoming more and more common. There is unfortunately no cure for asthma, but symptoms can be well managed with a combination of medications and diet and lifestyle changes.
Things You Can Do at Home
- Eliminate Any Allergens or Hypersensitivities
Ask your doctor about allergy testing for airborne and food allergies and sensitivities. The main difference between allergies and sensitivities are the type of antibodies involved. Ideally you should be tested for both allergies (IgE antibodies) and sensitivities (IgG or IgA antibodies), since these can both contribute to asthma symptoms. Many people with asthma have some type of allergic trigger and avoidance is often helpful for reducing symptoms.
- Control Heartburn
For unknown reasons, asthma and heartburn (also called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD) often go together. Left untreated, GERD often worsens asthma. There are many pharmaceutical and natural treatments for GERD that may also help to improve your asthma. Be sure to discuss any symptoms of heartburn with your doctor and to take recommended medications or supplements regularly.
- Avoid Tobacco Smoke
Tobacco smoke is an irritant to the lungs and can worsen asthma. Quitting isn’t easy and if you need help, ask your doctor about what options are out there. There are medications, supplements, and acupuncture treatments that may help make quitting easier.
- Clean Your Home Regularly
Dust allergies are very common among people with asthma. To help, remove clutter that can collect dust and make sure your home is kept relatively dust-free. Many people with asthma do better in homes without carpet, which can accumulate dust, pet dander, and other allergens.
- Get a Home Air Filter
You may find that a specialty HEPA air purifier can help control your asthma symptoms. HEPA filters remove 99.97 percent of particles in the air such as mold spores, dust mites, pet dander, and pollen, and improve air quality. If you can only afford one air filter for your home, keep it in your bedroom because this is the room you will typically spend the most time in.
- Don’t Use Toxic Household Products
Many people with asthma are sensitive to chemicals. Choose natural home cleaning products or make your own using simple ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. The Environmental Working Group maintains a great guide to non-toxic household products.
When Should I see a Doctor?
Even if your asthma has been well controlled for years, you should be prepared for an asthma emergency. These are signs that you should seek immediate medical attention:
- Not feeling relief after using your rescue inhaler
- Bluish lips or fingernails
- Retraction of the skin between your ribs
- Feeling out of breath even at rest
- Peak flow readings of less than 50 percent of your personal best
- Feeling exhausted or confused
Also, take note if you are using your rescue inhaler more frequently as this may be an indication that you may need an additional medication on board to control your symptoms.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
As with anything, it is easier to prevent a problem than to manage it once it has occurred. If you have small children you can do things now to help reduce their chances of developing asthma later in life. Some studies show that babies who are breastfed for at least 6 months may have a decreased risk of developing asthma. Giving your child a good quality probiotic may also help reduce their risk.