Jan Jansson: Map of the Winds, circa 1650

This is Part 1: What it Is, What to Do. (Find Part 2: Herbs and Supplements HERE)

Asthma is a condition effecting the lungs. People who “have” asthma can go days, weeks, and months without having an attack. During an attack, the microscopic airways of the lungs become inflamed, limiting airflow.  The airways constrict, and sometimes spasm; often there’s too much mucous.  Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Fatigue often follows. Anxiety and panic are not uncommon. Symptoms can vary in severity.

Attack patterns can vary. Some people suffer for mere minutes; others for days, even weeks.

Attacks themselves can be unpredictable.  However, there are often triggers, like viral infections, allergies, exposure to cold air, inhaled irritants (chemicals, dust, smoke), strong aromas, exercise, and even strong emotions.  Once something triggers an attack, the episode may persist even after the trigger goes away.   

Prevention: Prenatal and Early Childhood Influences: 

Since asthma is a lifelong disease, preventing it (i.e never having it in the first place) can save decades of gasping, wheezing, coughing, medication, anxiety, and physical limitations, not to mention potentially tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. 

This, obviously, is a big, big deal!  So even though the it may already be too late for the vast majority of people reading this, I want to take just a little time to cover it.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of individual studies exploring the factors which increase and/or decrease our risk of developing asthma.  All the data can be overwhelming, and some of it is contradictory.  However, when we step back to see the forest for the trees, we see some trends emerge:

  • Exposure — during childhood, infancy, and even prenatally — to industrial and chemical air pollution (city air and smog, tobacco smoke, fragrances) is strongly correlated with our risk of developing asthma. So is indoor air pollution (dust mites, cleaning chemicals).
  • “Good clean dirt” lowers risk.  Kids who grow up on working farms are less likely to develop asthma, as are kids who play outdoors, around animals or even other kids.  These early exposures appear to “train” the immune system to kind of “relax” and not overreact to things. 
  • Overuse of sanitizing and disinfecting cleansers increases risk. Harsh disinfectants around the house, as well as antibiotic drugs (which “sanitize” us internally) both increase our risk significantly. 

Then there was a 2016 study out of Denmark on fish oil and asthma, the results of which astound me. In 1990, 533 pregnant women were randomized to receive either fish oil (2.7 g total omega-3s) or a placebo for the final trimester of their pregnancies.  The original purpose of the study was to investigate whether fish oil could prevent breach birth.  (Turns out, it did).  Sixteen years later, another group of researchers tracked down the children from the original trial, to see who got asthma. 523 children were still in Denmark, where their records were available through the country’s National Health Registry. 

The findings were remarkable!  A mere three months of fish oil in utero reduced asthma diagnoses by 63%!  Allergic asthma by almost 80%. Now bear in mind the estimated lifetime cost of asthma is $70-$100,000.  On the other hand, the dose of fish oil used in the study would cost $75-$80 at our store. 

Prevention: Ongoing / Daily 

There are a million-and-one potential triggers for an asthma attack.  For some, it’s cold air.  For others, it’s exercise.  Or environmental or food allergies, stress, reflux, or respiratory infections. 

When you figure out your triggers, you can avoid them.  Even when you can’t, you can often find ways to address the trigger (the “cause”) instead of the just the asthma (the “symptom”).  For example, allergic asthma may respond better to allergy formulas than it may to asthma formulas. 

Getting allergens out of the house is a big help for some.  Minimize potential airborne irritants and allergens by opening your windows in winter, and closing them in summer.  Watch out for pets, potted plants, and fireplaces.  Watch out for damp basements, and “sick building syndrome.”     

Taking antivirals at the start of a cold or flu can often prevent a prolonged bout of asthma.  For many people, this is the key. 

Humidity is complicated.  Very humid air can make asthma worse.  It can feel “heavier” to breathe in.  Chronic humidity can also promote growth of mold and dust mites. 

Watch for reflux, especially “hidden” reflux (laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR).  This is the reflux that doesn’t burn.  Do you clear your throat after meals?  Have a chronic stuffy nose?  May be worth talking about…

And of course, stress and anxiety can bring on an asthma attack in some people.  Calming mindfulness practices can be a big help here. 

Part 2 in July: Herbs & Supplements: Black cumin oil, butterbur, magnesium, lobelia, osha root…