What is Asthma?
Asthma is a common issue in today’s times, mostly understood as a respiratory condition. Even today in India, awareness about the nature of asthma, and thus its intensity, is not very prevalent.
What is not known to many is that Asthma is actually an allergy. Allergies are of many types like food allergies, insect allergy, drug allergies, skin allergies, and respiratory allergies. Asthma happens to be a respiratory allergy of the severe kind, the two other chronic forms being allergic sinusitis and allergic rhinitis.
Asthma is the most dangerous of all respiratory allergies and can, at times, become life threatening. The airways swell up and make it difficult to breathe. In such a situation, unless medical help is immediately sought, it could even become fatal.
Warning box: While diagnosis, continuous treatment and management of asthma is quite possible, at times, if the symptoms of breathlessness worsens, it is best to immediately take the patient to a medical facility for emergency help. This timely action may actually help save the life.
The exact cause of Asthma is yet unknown, just like it is with many other allergies. However, with the evidence and information available from research done so far, people believe that many factors contribute to Asthma.
Some of these are:
- Heredity – This is one of the most common factors for most allergies, including Asthma
- Atopy (atopic syndrome), which is a tendency to develop allergies
- Certain childhood respiratory infections may lead to asthma later
- Exposure to airborne allergens like dust, animal fur, pollen, etc. or even air pollution, and cigarette smoke
- Childhood or infancy viral infections, when the immune system is very weak
- Certain medications like aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Presence of Sulfites in the food and drinks consumed
There is also a type of Asthma called occupational Asthma which is the result of exposure to certain chemical irritants or industrial dust at one’s workplace. Also, allergic rhinitis, stress and shock too can be contributing factors to Asthmatic condition.
Asthmatic patients may display one or more of the below symptoms:
- Breathlessness – a feeling of being unable to breathe even though you try to gulp air
- Cough, especially the kind that deteriorates at night, causing breathing difficulties and making it tough to sleep
- Wheezing – Usually when wheezing happens, there is a sound that is heard when you breathe, at times, like a whistling sound
- Tightness in the chest
It is important to remember that all Asthmatic patients may not have all the symptoms. Also, just having these symptoms need not be a confirmation of Asthma as well. It could well be some other issue.
Also, symptoms may be mild or severe, depending on the trigger as well as the season, exposure to triggers, immunity levels, etc.
If you suspect that your symptoms could be those of Asthma, it is best to consult a medical practitioner. The doctor will conduct necessary checks and tests to confirm, and propose treatment. The doctor mayl study your medical and family history to arrive at the diagnosis.
Apart from physical examination and studying the case history, the doctor may prescribe a few tests to be done to conclude that a person has Asthma.
Some of the usual tests done are:
- Lung Function Test: The Lung Function test is done to measure the lung capacity in terms of how much air can be taken in and out. This test also measures how fast you are able to do it. It is usually called as The test may be repeated depending on the results. At times, the test may be repeated with some medication to see if it helps improve the readings.
- Allergy Tests: Since Asthma is a respiratory allergy, the doctor may also prescribe a few allergy tests. This is done to see which of the allergens might have triggered the Asthma attack.
- Bronchoprovocation Test: This is a test that is done to determine the sensitivity of your airways. This test usually measures the lung function readings during and after some physical exertion, using spirometry.
- Chest X-ray or Electrocardiogram to determine if the symptoms are caused by any foreign objects in the lungs
- Tests to rule out other diseases with symptoms similar to that of
Not all tests may be advised and it depends and changes from patient to patient, especially for kids. The most common test that is done is the Lung Function Test and the rest are done, on a need basis only.
Treatment (Medication) - Allopathy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda
Asthma has no cure as is the case with most allergies. The treatment is usually aligned at understanding the triggers, avoiding it, and thus controlling or managing the disease.
With proper treatment, Asthma patients can hope to lead a long, normal, active and healthy life.
Treatments are aimed at:
- Preventing the chronic and troublesome symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath
- Reducing the need for quick-relief medicines (like inhalers)
- Maintaining good lung function
- Continuance of normal activity through the day and improving sleep at night
- Corticosteroids: One of the most common form of Asthma treatment in Allopathy is using steroid medicines that prevent swelling in the airways. These medicines taken daily in the suggested doses help people effectively manage Asthma over a long term.
Take these medicines only under prescription, in dosages and periodicity as suggested by the doctor.
Warning box: The Omalizumab corticosteroid injection can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis and should only be taken under clinical supervision.
According to Ayurveda, Asthma is defined as the accumulation of “Kapha” in the airways due to “Vata” or cold. It could also be due to the intake of food items that aggravate the “Kapha” or lung related issue itself.
Ayurveda also attributes Asthma to lifestyle as well as environmental factors like chilly winds and dampness.
As per Ayurveda, bad digestion is also a major cause for Asthma and hence, treatment is aligned accordingly. So, a combination of the right diet and lifestyle changes are used in the Ayurvedic Asthma treatment.
Pulses like aged rice, wheat, barley
- Warm drinks like spiced or herbal tea
- Sprouts, seeds or nuts in moderate amount
- Stale, cold or refrigerated food or drinks
- Heavy foods like dairy items
- Difficult to digest foods like oily and greasy foods
- White flour
The advice also includes avoiding excessive exercise and instead doing Yoga, especially Pranayama, the breathing exercise. Do note that this is in contrast to traditional approaches which say that under supervision, exercise can actually benefit Asthma patients.
Home remedies suggested by Ayurveda are
- A dry powder mixture of dried ginger root, and black pepper in equal amounts, stored in an airtight container. This mixture can be had twice daily with half a teaspoonful of honey and mixture, mixed in a glass of lukewarm water.
- For clearing the airways, cumin seeds may be boiled in water for steam inhalatio
This form of alternative medicine treats Asthma patients in such a way that it is based not just on the person’s symptoms, but also the person’s psyche and the way they relate to others and life in general.
Blatta orientalis, a rather interesting and unusual cure for Asthma, is the large, dark oriental cockroach. This remedy has said to help many Asthma sufferers since the 1800s. In homeopathy, most of these compounds are used in their essence (distilled) form, so do not worry about their origins!
Some other compounds originating from tobacco are also often used in homeopathic treatment if Asthma.
However, since the treatment differs from person to person, always follow your doctor’s advice.
The intent of an Asthma diet is to ensure that you avoid any foods that might trigger the Asthma attacks, if suspected so. Evidence indicates that higher consumption of vitamins C and E, flavonoids, beta-carotene, selenium, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids does reduce Asthma incidents. These are mostly antioxidants.
Apart from this, there really is no conclusive proof to suggest that any specific diet can help prevent Asthma, and research is underway. However, it is suggested to follow these suggestions.
- Increased intake of fresh fruits and vegetables of a wider variety
- Eating more of Omega-3 fat containing foods like Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, etc.
- Stay away from trans fat and Omega-6 foods (Flax Seeds, therefore, are not a good idea)
- Avoid foods you are allergic to
- Avoid foods with Sulfites, such as wine and some dried fruit
One has to be a bit cautious about exercise as an Asthma patient, as sometimes, physical exertion leads to Asthma attacks. However, this is not to say that such people should avoid exercise totally.
In fact, there is evidence that suggests that certain forms of exercise and in moderation can actually help your cause. In one study conducted on the subject, it has been proved that swimming is very beneficial.
Swimming helps build up the muscles used for breathing. Another study has noted that Yoga is also good for improving quality of life for Asthma patients.
A few tips are to warm up a bit first, try and breathe through the nose only, and not to overexert and finally allow for some cool-down time.
If you need more motivation, know that some of your favourite tennis players and footballers are chronically asthmatic. However, by maintaining optimal fitness levels through diet and exercise, they have gone on to have very successful careers in sport.
It is possible for Asthma patients, to lead a healthy, normal life with certain lifestyle changes and medications. A few general recommendations:
- Quit smoking
- Include lots of fruits and vegetables and Omega-3 fatty foods in the diet
- Regular exercise is a must
- Manage your body weight
- Take necessary flu shots every season (A flu can worsen the Asthma condition)
- Stay mentally fit and free from stress
- Ensure that regular medication is taken as prescribed
How to Prevent Asthma?
There is no proof to suggest that Asthma can be prevented as the factors that cause it are also still under study. Here are a few things to consider in case you’re looking to prevent an Asthma attack:
- Keep a track of the attacks and possible triggers like food, dust, drugs, exercise, etc.and avoid them
- If you have a family history, then consult your doctor and see what measures can be taken to bring in dietary and lifestyle changes early
- Try to have a healthy, normal life free from stress to the extent possible
- Understand symptoms and their severity and take necessary actions at the right time, instead of waiting for them to