Easing asthma

Asthma is at epidemic levels particularly among children but it can be made much more manageable with breathing techiques, therapies and self-help.
What is asthma?

Asthma is a recurring problem which can be triggered by allergies, infections or stress. When a sufferer comes into contact with an asthma trigger the muscles around the walls of the airways which carry air in and out of the lungs tighten. It becomes difficult to breathe, the chest feels tight and the sufferer may wheeze and cough. Attacks range from mild breathlessness to respiratory failure which is dangerous.

How many people are affected?

As many as 5.2 million people in the UK currently receive treatment for asthma usually in the form of inhalers. Over 1 million of those being treated are children, and every year 1,400 people die due to asthma.

What are the causes?

The question is why is asthma so much worse than it was in the 50s and 60s when it was rare to find someone with the condition at school? Now virtually every school class has at least one child with asthma.

Much of it is due to our lifestyle and environmental pollution. We eat and breathe in chemicals which are everywhere around us and ever-increasing traffic means that pollution levels grow and grow. But one of the most common causes of asthma is the droppings of house dust mites which are prevalent among bedding, soft toys and in carpets.

Eliminating dust mites

A recent TV programme showed an experiment where a group of children with asthma had their rooms completely stripped out to get rid of every single dust mite. They were given mattresses with protective covers and completely new furnishings, and parents were asked to hoover out the room every day!

Initially all the children experienced a good night’s sleep and woke up in the morning feeling much better than normal, without runny eyes, coughs and wheezing. But most of the parents were finding the cleaning regime completely unrealistic because there was so much to do each day.

Self-help

Obviously it worked when the dust mites, which are claimed to be the most common trigger for allergens, are removed from the bedroom. However, it’s difficult to keep up such a regime all the time.

People with asthma experience some or many of the following as allergens:

• Cat and dog hairs
• Feathers in pillows and duvets
• Household chemicals
• Fungal spores from mould in damp areas
• Wheat and dairy
• Pollen

It makes sense to change the bedding so that it doesn’t contain feathers. Keeping windows closed, putting up net curtains and wearing sunglasses can help when pollen is a problem – see Hay Fever Time Again. And of course regular hoovering helps to keep down the dust – although avoid anyone with asthma being around when dusting is going on because it creates more airborne particles and makes the least allergic people sneeze!

Treatment

Conventional treatment is with inhalers which asthma sufferers keep on them all the time in case of attack. But inhalers do cause a number of side-effects which may not manifest for many years, but which can include gastro-intestinal problems. As the TV programme demonstrated children who are beset by asthma often exceed the recommended dose in attempts to breathe properly.

Natural solutions

Most complementary therapists would be wary of telling anyone that they can ‘cure’ asthma but several therapies are beneficial in alleviating attacks and making people less dependent on their medication. It is always recommended that people keep their inhalers with them even when they have tried other therapies, but if they use them much less so much the better.

Buteyko Breathing Technique

A drug free breathing technique which was developed in Russia by Dr Konstantin Buteyko, who discovered that all asthmatics overbreathe. This causes a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide retained in the lungs which makes the airways automatically narrow to prevent any more loss of carbon dioxide. Therefore asthmatics find it easier to breathe in than out.

The Buteyko breathing exercises are designed to raise carbon dioxide levels to normal, and attacks tend to lessen and then completely stop. People learn how to overcome symptoms without using inhalers, so that they start to use them much less, but medication is not reduced until CO2 levels are back to normal and the patient has consulted their GP. Children improve quickly because they have only had asthma for a relatively short time.

The Buteyko Breathing Centre, Nottingham, 0115 846 1654 www.buteyko.co.uk

Buteyko Breathing Association, 01277 366906 www.buteykobreathing.org/

Nutrition

Certain foods can affect asthma sufferers more than other and most commonly these are wheat and dairy products. But if someone is allergic to something they eat or inhale it can cause asthma.

When an allergen is breathed in, the lining of the lung releases histamine which produces asthma. Some foods, particularly wheat and dairy products, have the same effect but take longer to reach the lungs through the body.

The conventional way of finding out which allergens are affecting asthmas is through skin prick tests. The possible allergen is injected with a small pin prick and if it causes redness or lumps it indicates an allergic reaction.

A self-help way to diagnose food allergies is to cut out wheat or dairy or the suspect food and see if there is any improvement. Then it may be possible to introduce them slowly back into the diet and the body may be able to tolerate it, or else they have to be cut out altogether.

It’s important for anyone with asthma to get adequate vitamins and minerals so a good Multivitamin/Mineral supplement is a good idea, such as viridiKid Multivitamin and Multimineral Formula for children and Viridian High Five Multimineral and Vitamins.

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There is still only a handful of allergy clinics in the UK so self-help is often the best bet. However, visiting a qualified nutritionist can help you to identify which foods are aggravating or causing the problem. Adopting a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables boosts the immune system, provides more nutrients and enables the body to be stronger and fight all types of illness.

The British Association of Nutritional Therapists, 08706 061284, www.bant.org.uk
The Institute for Optimum Nutrition, 020 8877 9993, www.ion.ac.uk

Relaxation

In itself relaxation may not prevent asthma but as this is a condition that can induce severe panic the calmer that someone can remain in the circumstances the better. As tension and stress often play any part in causing asthma attacks a more relaxed person is less likely to get them.

There are several ways of relaxing:

• Calming CDs and tapes
• Meditation – see
• Yoga
• T’ai chi/Chi Kung

Other therapies that help

• Naturopathy
• Homeopathy
• Traditional Chinese medicine
• Herbal medicine

General Council and Register of Naturopaths, British Naturopathic Association, 08707 456984 www.naturopathy.org.uk

The British Homeopathic Association supplies a free booklet entitled How to Get Homeopathic Treatment on the NHS, and a list of medically qualified practitioners: 0870 444 3950, www.trusthomeopathy.org
Alliance of Registered Homeopaths, www.a-r-h.org

The Society of Homeopaths, 11 Brookfield, Duncan Close, Moulton Park, Northampton NN3 6WL Tel: 0845 450 6611, Fax: 0845 450 6622, E-mail: info@homeopathy-soh.org

Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, 01603 623994, The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, 01392 426022, www.nimh.org.uk

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