Last time, we discussed how to diagnose asthma and what medicines are useful in treatment. To quickly recap, asthma is a chronic condition that affects your ability to breathe. It affects the airways, which are the tubes that transport air to your lungs. When people with asthma are exposed to a substance that they are allergic to (an “allergen”), these airways become inflamed. As the airways become swollen, the diameter of the airway decreases and less air gets to the lungs. You will experience shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.
In addition to knowing the above symptoms, it’s important to know what allergens will trigger an attack. If you suspect that something in your diet or environment is causing your asthma, make an effort to avoid that stimulus and see if your attacks become less frequent. You can measure how open your airways are with an instrument known as a peak flow meter. It can help you identify if a cough is part of an asthma attack or not, or whether you’re having a panic attack instead.
Using a Peak Flow Meter to Diagnose Asthma
This is what you do: Take your peak flow meter and exhale into it as hard as you can. This will give you a baseline reading of your air flow when you’re not having an attack. then, when you’re having an attack, blow into it again. In moderate asthma, peak flow will be reduced 20-40%. Greater than 50% is a sign of a severe episode. This will help you identify when you need stronger medicine to get better. In a non-asthma related cough or upper respirator infection, your peak flow will be close to normal. The same goes for a panic attack; even though you may feel short of breath, your peak flow is still about normal.
In mild to moderate cases, you might consider the use of natural remedies. There are actually quite a few substances that have been reported to be helpful:
Ginger and Garlic Tea: Put four minced garlic cloves in some ginger tea while it’s hot. Cool it down and drink twice a day. Some have reported a beneficial effect with just the garlic.
Other herbal teas: Ephedra, Coltsfoot, Codonopsis, Butterbur, Nettle, Chamomile, and Rosemary all have the potential to improve an asthmatic attack. Coffee: Black unsweetned coffee is a stimulant that might make your lung function better when you are having an attack. Don’t drink more that 12 ounces at a time, as coffee can dehydrate you. Interestingly, coffee is somewhat similar in chemical structure to the asthma drug Theopylline.
Eucalyptus: Essential oil of eucalyptus, used in a steam or direct inhalation, is well-known to open airways. Rub a few drops of oil between your hands and breath in deeply. Alternatively, a few drops in some steaming water will be good respiratory therapy.
Honey: Honey was used in the 19th century to treat asthmatic attacks. Breath deeply from a jar of honey and you should see improvement in a few minutes. To decrease the frequency of attacks, stir one teaspoon of honey in a twelve ounce glass of water and drink it three times daily.
Turmeric: Take one teaspoon of turmeric powder in 6-8 ounces of warm water three times a day.
Licorice and Ginger: Mix licorice and ginger (1/2 teaspoon of each) in a cup of water. Warning: Licorice can raise your blood pressure.
Black Pepper, Onion, and Honey: Drink ¼ cup of onion juice with a tablespoon of honey, after adding 1/8 tablespoon of black pepper.
Mustard Oil Rub: Mix mustard oil with camphor and rub it on your chest and back. There are claims that it gives instant relief in some cases.
Gingko Biloba leaf extract capsules: Thought to decrease hypersentivity in the lungs; not for people who are taking aspirin or ibuprofen daily, or anticoagulants like Coumadin.
Vitamin D: Some asthmatics have been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency.
Lobelia: Native Americans smoked this herb as a treatment for asthma! instead of smoking, try mixing
tincture of lobelia with tincture of cayenne in a 3:1 ratio. Put 1 milliliter (about 20 drops) of this mixture in water at the start of an attack and repeat every thirty minutes or so.
With a number of these substances, further research is necessary to corroborate the amount of effect that they have on severe asthma, so take standard medications if your peak flow reading is 60% or less than normal.
Don’t underestimate the effect of your diet on your condition. Asthmatics should:
Replace animal proteins with plant proteins.
Increase intake of Omega-3 fatty acids
Eliminate milk and other dairy products.
Eat organically whenever possible.
Eliminate trans-fats; use extra-virgin olive oil as your main cooking oil.
Always stay well-hydrated; more fluids will make your lung secretions less viscous.
Breathing Methods and Controlling Asthma
Finally, various breathing methods such as taught in Yoga classes are thought to help promote well-being and control the panic response seen in asthmatic attacks. Acupuncture is thought to have some promise as well in treating the condition.
You might have been taught not to believe in natural remedies, but why not use all the tools at your disposal? When you put together conventional medicine with holistic alternatives, you have what Nurse Amy and I have: The perfect marriage!