I typically rely on allergy relief remedies when seasonal allergies creep up, but some of the things that can trigger allergies can also trigger asthma. If you or your child suffer from asthma (which is a growing problem!), you’ll be happy to know that there are lots of natural remedies for asthma that are surprisingly easy to use.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition where airways narrow, swell, and become inflamed. This can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and excess mucus production. The severity of asthma varies from person to person. For some, it’s a nuisance and for others, it can be much more serious.
Unfortunately, asthma typically begins in childhood (but can happen at any age).
Symptoms of Asthma
There are some obvious symptoms of asthma:
- Coughing – often is worse at night or early in the morning which makes it difficult to sleep.
- Wheezing – a whistling rattling, or squeaky sound with each breath.
- Chest tightness – may feel like something is sitting on your chest or squeezing you.
- Shortness of breath – either you can’t get enough air in, or can’t let it out.
Important note: Not all people who have asthma have any symptoms. Also, you can have these symptoms without having asthma. To diagnose asthma, your doctor may want to give you a lung function test along with using other diagnostic tools. As always, checking with a doctor is the best approach.
Severity of an Asthma Attack
Mild asthma is fairly common and usually can be addressed with natural remedies. It’s good to know the symptoms of each stage though, so you know when to seek a doctor’s care. (It’s always good to check in with your doctor even if you think you have only mild to moderate symptoms.)
- Mild – slight wheezing and difficulty breathing but adequate air intake. This can be intermittent (fewer than twice a week) or persistent (more than twice a week).
- Moderate – conspicuous wheezing, respiratory distress at rest, use of abdominal muscles to breathe. These flare-ups can make regular activities and sleeping difficulty.
- Severe – obvious respiratory distress, blue skin (especially the nail beds and lips), absent breath sounds.
- Respiratory Failure – severe respiratory distress, lethargy, confusion, sweating, low blood pressure.
If you or someone you know is having an asthma attack that resembles severe or respiratory failure, call 911 right away.
What Causes Asthma?
Experts still don’t know for sure what causes asthma. However, they believe it is a combination of environmental irritants and genetic predisposition. Some possible causes are:
- physical activity ( especially running)
- certain medications like beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen (Aleve)
- cold air, wind, or other weather extremes
- strong emotions or stress
- sulfites and preservatives added to food
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- impaired antioxidant defenses (and subsequent oxidative stress)
Additionally, there are some risk factors that make certain people more likely to get asthma. Risk factors for asthma include:
- family history – if a close relative has asthma, you’re more likely to have it too
- respiratory infections
- allergies – people with allergies (Like eczema or hay fever) are more likely to develop asthma.
- exposure to environmental irritants – pet dander, pollution, cigarette smoke, chemicals, and workplace toxins can make it more likely that a person develops asthma.
- obesity – both children and adults who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop asthma. it’s unclear why this is true. Some experts believe it has to do with inflammation associated with obesity.
One interesting theory that researchers have for what causes asthma is the “hygiene hypothesis.” Basically, this hypothesis says that in the Western world we worry a lot about cleanliness and sanitation. Because of this, children aren’t exposed to germs and have fewer illnesses. Because of the reduction in exposure to these illnesses and germs, kids’ immune systems don’t grow as robust as they could. This is why I stopped using antibacterial cleaners at home.)
Natural Asthma Remedies
Typically, doctors treat asthma symptoms with steroid inhalers and bronchodilators. Steroid inhalers help quickly reduce inflammation to open the airway. But they have some side effects (just listen to a commercial for asthma medicine!).
Asthma medication certainly may be life-saving and important (always check with your doctor), but how can you support your health in other ways? Natural remedies for asthma can help with mild to moderate asthma symptoms.
Most of all, treating symptoms when they first appear is important for avoiding more serious or severe symptoms.
Intense exercise may make asthma symptoms worse but moderate or mild exercise can help strengthen the lungs and reduce inflammation. A 2005 review found that lack of physical activity may be one cause of asthma and that physical activity should be a prescription for all asthmatics.
Reduce Environmental Irritants
Since environmental irritants can cause or exacerbate asthma, reducing them makes sense as a preventative measure.
- Don’t smoke
- Use an air filter in your house or the workplace
- Use natural cleaners and body products (instead of chemicals)
- Consider getting rid of rugs or carpets (they could harbor dust mites)
- Clean (and dust) living space often
- Remediate mold
Everything you can do to reduce dust or other allergens in your home is a great first step!
Deal With Stress
Stress is more of a health risk than many of us realize. In fact, high levels of stress can completely undo all of the other healthy things you may be doing (like eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly). Research published in 2014 shows that asthma has a psychological trigger. It also explains that breathing exercises can reduce asthma symptoms for many patients.
Additionally, a review in the Journal of Asthma found that meditation may be beneficial to asthma sufferers (but higher quality studies are needed).
Try Himalayan Salt Therapy
Some asthma sufferers swear by salt therapy for their symptoms. Salt caves or Himalayan salt inhalers are two ways of experiencing salt therapy. There’s not much information about salt therapy for asthma. However, one study published in Pneumologia does say it could be beneficial (though researchers couldn’t rule out placebo effect). Salt therapy seems to be safe, so it may be worth a try.
Use Essential Oils
When used safely, essential oils can be a great addition to a natural remedy kit. These essential oils are great for easing asthma symptoms:
- Peppermint – can help stop the release of histamine. Can also soothe inflamed airways (peppermint contains menthol).
- Lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree, and roman chamomile – known anti-inflammatory oils that may reduce one of the root causes of asthma, inflammation
My favorite ways to use essential oils is to diffuse them or use them topically. If used topically, dilute in a carrier oil and use to massage on the skin (the chest is a good place to start). Always be sure to use a quality brand.
Herbal medicine is another way to treat asthma symptoms without the side effects of steroids. A Chinese medicine herbal formula called ASHMI has been found in clinical trials to be only slightly less effective than prednisone for treating asthma. This herbal blend includes reishi, Chinese liquorice, and shrubby sophora. (Check with a doctor before to avoid interactions any medications.)
Change Your Diet
Diet is one of the most important things we can focus on to optimizing health. A high nutrient diet rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds can help avoid the inflammatory response that asthma can create. Other nutrients to include in the diet are the following:
- Vitamin C – Children who ate vitamin C-rich fruit were less likely to have wheezing. A clinical review also found that vitamin C plays a part in the metabolism of histamine and prostaglandins. These compounds are involved in the constriction of the airway during an asthma attack. Here is how I supplement vitamin C.
- Carotenoids – Carotenoids are the compounds that give vegetables their yellow, orange, or red pigment (think carrots, peppers, and tomatoes). A 2005 study found that those with asthma had lower circulating levels of carotenoids. Carotenoids also fight oxidative stress which is one potential cause of asthma. So as always, eat those colorful veggies!
- Folate – Folate is an important vitamin for many processes in the body. It’s especially important during pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects. A 2010 study found that folate may even help prevent asthma. Higher folate levels in the blood were associated with a lower risk for allergic tendencies and wheezing in participants. (Just be sure to take the right form.)
- Magnesium – Magnesium sulfate IVs are a standard treatment for asthma attacks that land patients in the hospital. But it seems that increasing dietary magnesium could be beneficial in improving symptoms too. One study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that higher levels of magnesium in the diet were associated with improved symptoms (though not better airflow). Magnesium is an important mineral that many of us are deficient in, so it’s worth upping your intake. Magnesium is in dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, and fish like salmon, mackerel, and halibut. Dietary magnesium is good but is hard for some people to absorb. Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin with a magnesium oil spray.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3s found in fatty fish like anchovies and salmon are excellent for reducing inflammation. A 2015 study also found that a lower level of omega-3s may be related to asthma. It also found that a greater intake of omega-3 resolved inflammation in asthma sufferers. This is my preferred source.
- Sulforaphane – Cruciferous vegetable like broccoli and cabbage contain this compound that can be beneficial for asthma sufferers. It increased antioxidant enzymes that can protect against free radicals and oxidative stress in a UCLA study. Here’s how to get it at home from sprouts!
- Raw dairy products (or none altogether) – Dairy intake can cause mucus production which can exacerbate asthma symptoms. But raw milk can be beneficial. A study published in Frontiers of Immunology discovered that raw milk actually prevents airway inflammation in asthma sufferers.
Using a Natural Remedy Arsenal for Asthma
Asthma symptoms are a nuisance at best and dangerous at worse. Luckily there are some natural remedies for asthma that can help you prevent the onset of asthma symptoms for you or your child, and make daily life more enjoyable.
Do you or a family member suffer from asthma? What remedies work best for you?
- Wood, L. G., Garg, M. L., Blake, R. J., Garcia-Caraballo, S., & Gibson, P. G. (2005, December). Airway and circulating levels of carotenoids in asthma and healthy controls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373941
- Matsui, E. C., & Matsui, W. (2009, June). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2693474/
- The effects of vitamin C on asthma should be also be studied. (2018, August 15). Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5517/rr/797361
- Hill, J., Micklewright, A., Lewis, S., & Britton, J. (1997, October). Investigation of the effect of short-term change in dietary magnesium intake in asthma. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9387944
- Role of omega-3 fatty acids and their metabolites in asthma and allergic diseases. (2014, October 27). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1323893014000100
- Lucas, S. R., & Platts-Mills, T. A. (2005, May). Physical activity and exercise in asthma: Relevance to etiology and treatment. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15867847
- Breathing exercises for asthma. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://breathe.ersjournals.com/content/10/4/312
- Paudyal, P., Jones, C., Grindey, C., Dawood, R., & Smith, H. (2018, July). Meditation for asthma: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28853958
- Cernomaz, T. A., Bolog, S. G., & Mih?escu, T. (n.d.). The effect of a dry salt inhaler in adults with COPD. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18019972