Health & Personal Care

A comprehensive guide to help manage asthma

A comprehensive guide to help manage asthma

Asthma is a kind of inflammatory disease that affects the airways leading to the lungs. These airways become narrow and swollen, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma can also trigger other aggravating symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Usually, when a person breathes, the air enters through the nose and goes down the throat into the airways and eventually the lungs. The chronic condition of asthma occurs when the airways’ inner lining becomes swollen, and the muscles around them tighten. As a result, the mucus accumulates in the airways, decreasing the amount of air that can pass through.

For some people, asthma is a minor problem. However, for others, the disease can meddle with daily activities and can even be life-threatening.

Some of the most common symptoms of asthma are as follows:

  • Uncontrollable coughing, especially during the night time or during exercise
  • Wheezing, i.e., a whistling sound made while breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Pain or tightness in the chest

Some signs that show that your asthma is worsening include the following:

  • The asthma signs and symptoms are more frequent and troublesome
  • Increase in breathing difficulty
  • The need to use rescue treatment more often than before

It is important to understand that not all people experience all these afore-mentioned symptoms. Also, the type of asthma largely regulates the symptoms experienced by you. If you think the symptoms you are experiencing may be an indicator of asthma, you must consult your doctor immediately.

Types of asthma
There are different types of asthma, with bronchial asthma being the most common one. This type of asthma affects the bronchi in the lungs.

Besides, other forms of this disease also include childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma. In the latter type, the symptoms do not appear until the early 20s.

  • Allergic asthma
    Also known as extrinsic asthma, this is mostly triggered by common allergens, such as pollen, certain food items, dust, mold, and pet dander. Typically, this asthma comes and goes with seasonal allergies.
  • Non-allergic asthma
    This is triggered by certain particles present in the air that are not related to general allergies. These particles may be cold air, pollution, cigarette or burning wood smoke, perfumes, household cleaning products, or air fresheners.
  • Occupational asthma
    This type of asthma is activated in the workplace due to common triggers like dyes, fumes, dust, rubber latex, animal proteins, and industrial chemicals. These triggers are generally present in textiles, manufacturing, farming, and woodworking industries.
  • Exercise-induced asthma (EIA)
    This, now known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), usually affects people within a few minutes of doing exercise or any other physical activity. This type of asthma symptom only flares up during exercise.
  • Nocturnal asthma
    As the name suggests, this type of asthma is characterized by aggravated symptoms during nighttime. The most common triggers are dust mites, pet dander, and heartburn. Nocturnal asthma can disrupt one’s sleep cycle.

There is no one cause of asthma. In most cases, the condition is believed to be caused by environmental and genetic factors.

Some potential factors that may contribute to the disease are as follows:

  • Illness
    Sometimes, serious respiratory ailments can lead to flu or pneumonia that can cause asthmatic attacks.
  • Exercise
    EIB is usually caused due to increased or rapid movements.
  • Air irritants
    Some people may be sensitive to irritants like smoke, smog, potent odors or fumes, leading to asthmatic attacks.
  • Harsh weather conditions
    Weather conditions, such as extremely low temperatures or high humidity, can trigger the symptoms.
  • Allergens
    Pollen, dust mites, and pet dander can lead to seasonal asthma in people.
  • Extreme emotions
    Sudden bouts of laughter or anger can also trigger the attack.
  • Stress
    Stress can lead to asthma symptoms in many people. According to many studies, people with mental health ailments, such as depression, are found to be more prone to this condition.
  • Smoking tobacco
    Sometimes, cigarette smoking can also trigger asthma symptoms. Smoking can damage the lungs, increasing the chances of various lung-related conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

Potential risk factors

  • Genetics
    Having a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling with asthma, can greatly increase your chances of developing it.
  • History of viral infections
    People who have experienced severe viral infections during their childhood are at a higher risk of asthma.
  • Exposure to allergens
    Repeated contact with allergens may also trigger asthma.
  • Hygiene hypothesis
    Sometimes, some kids aren’t exposed to enough bacteria during their early months or childhood years. Because of this, their immune system doesn’t become robust to prevent chronic conditions such as asthma.

Treatment options
Preventing and managing symptoms are the key to avoiding asthmatic attacks. The first stage of treatment for asthma includes identifying your triggers and evading them.

So, treatment for asthma falls into the following three broad categories:

  • Breathing exercises
  • First-aid treatments
  • Long-term asthmatic medications

Depending upon the severity of your condition, your doctor can help you formulate a robust treatment plan.

  • Breathing exercises
    A series of simple breathing exercises can help to treat the less severe cases of asthma. These exercises work by filling more air into the patient’s lungs, thereby increasing the lung capacity and reducing the symptoms. You can talk to your doctor about the most effective exercises for your condition.
  • First-aid treatments
    These are rescue medications that are used in case of an asthmatic attack, as these offer instant relief.

Some of the most common rescue treatments are as follows:

  • Bronchodilators
    These help to ease the tightened muscles in the lungs
  • Quick-relief inhaler or nebulizer
    These devices contain medicines, which are deeply inhaled to reduce the symptoms
  • Anti-inflammatories
    These medicines reduce inflammation in the lungs that may be the cause of breathing difficulty. They can be in the form of oral or intravenous corticosteroids. It is important to note that these medicines are only used on a short-term basis.
  • Long-term asthma control medications
    These are medicines that are prescribed for daily use to prevent the symptoms. Apart from these, certain rescue treatments, such as nebulizers or inhalers, may also be used. You must consult a doctor who will help you set the dosage amount.

Some common long-term medications used to treat asthma are as follows:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids
    These are anti-inflammatory medicines that need to be used for several weeks before gaining their maximum benefit. They have relatively fewer side effects and are potentially safe for long-term use.
  • Long-acting beta-agonists
    These are inhaling medicines that aim to open the airways and increase the amount of air going in.
  • Leukotriene modifiers
    They are oral medicines that help to ease the exasperating asthma symptoms for up to 24 hours. Rarely, they cause reactions like depression, anger, agitation, or hallucinations.

Natural remedies
Along with medications, natural remedies can relieve and reduce the symptoms of an asthma patient. If followed regularly, some natural remedies may lower the need for medications over time, thus enhancing the quality of your life. Given below are some of the popular natural remedies for asthma:

  • Buteyko breathing technique
    Buteyko breathing technique (BTT) is a method of breathing, which aims to slow down the speed of breathing and control its rhythmic movement, hence decreasing asthma symptoms. In this, you will breathe from your nose and not from your mouth. When you breathe through your nose, your breathing rate reduces, which means, you breathe out slowly from your nose until you have exhaled completely.
  • Yoga
    Yogic exercises enhance the capacity of your lungs and help control and regulate your breathing. These include a lot of stretching exercises to increase your flexibility and physical fitness, thus reducing your stress levels. For a few people, increased stress levels alter their breathing patterns and activate asthma. Bow pose, camel pose, bridge pose, dolphin pose, bound angle pose, cobra pose, etc. are a few of the yoga poses that help to reduce the symptoms.
  • Hypnotherapy
    Hypnosis is a process that helps a person to become calm, composed, and relaxed. It opens your mind to new positive thoughts, enhances your immune system, and decreases stress levels, anxiety, and depression, all of which can alleviate your asthma symptoms. Consult a trained hypnotherapist who can treat your asthma and breathing problems through hypnosis.
  • Mindfulness
    Mindfulness is a kind of meditation that aims to relax and de-stress your body and your mind. It is practiced in a quiet place by closing your eyes and focusing on your present feeling, sensation, and thoughts. As this activity relaxes your body and mind, you can get rid of your asthma symptoms that are related to stress.
  • Speleotherapy
    Speleotherapy is a natural treatment for asthma in which a person stays in an underground environment like a mine or cave and breathes its salty air. Breathing salty air, underground air pressure, and climate are supposed to be beneficial for asthma patients.
  • Steam bath
    A steam bath is one of the most effective and simple natural remedies for treating your asthma symptoms. Steam will open your blocked nasal passage, curing your cold or flu, and helping you breathe easily. Steam baths can relax your body and give a soothing feeling when your asthma symptoms trigger.
  • Dietary changes
    Small dietary changes that help you to stay physically fit are important for controlling asthma symptoms. For example, being obese can often trigger your symptoms. So, it is of utmost importance that you have a balanced and healthy diet. Your diet should include all the necessary nutrients so that your body does not develop any deficiency. You must consult your dietician if your asthma symptoms flare up after eating a certain type of food.

Foods that help alleviate the symptoms

  • Flaxseeds
    Flax seeds are a wonderful source of magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Several studies have concluded that magnesium is a helpful ingredient for asthma patients, as it helps to ease the muscles surrounding the airways and bronchi. Alternatively, constriction of bronchi is what triggers asthma. Moreover, omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fishes, also have a relaxing effect on the airways.
  • Ginger
    Ginger is said to decrease inflammation. Many researchers have concluded that oral ginger supplements can lead to an improvement in asthma symptoms. Certain components in ginger can relax the airways.
  • Apples
    Apples contain beneficial compounds known as flavonoids that help people suffering from asthma. One particular flavonoid, khellin, is known to open up the airways to provide easy passage for air into the lungs.
  • Honey
    Honey is a common household remedy used for treating sore throat and symptoms of flu. Mixing honey with some hot beverage or herbal tea can also help asthmatic people to ease the breathing condition.
  • Omega-3 oils
    Omega-3 oils are known to have a plethora of health benefits. These oils that are found in fish and flaxseeds can reduce the inflammation in the lungs and improve their function. You must talk to your doctor before trying out these oils.
  • Caffeine
    Caffeine is a bronchodilator that improves the functioning of airways. It decreases respiratory muscle fatigue and can keep the airways expanded for up to four hours after consumption.
  • Berries
    Berries are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, and help to fight inflammation in the body. They can assist in decreasing the inflammation in the lungs and improving the movement of air.
  • Carrots
    Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is a high-performing antioxidant. Many studies suggest that this beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body that reduces the likelihood of getting exercise-induced asthma. Apart from carrots, beta-carotene is found in many vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, green peppers, and apricots.

It would be fair to conclude that there is no cure for asthma. The best way to treat this condition is by taking prescribed medications and making certain lifestyle changes to improve the quality of life. If you experience any of the symptoms discussed here, immediately consult a doctor for diagnosis and further guidance. Discuss your specific symptoms, so that they can develop a comprehensive treatment plan for your condition.

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