IF YOU have asthma, an inhaler is probably something you have handy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 12 Americans has asthma, a condition that causes the airways in your lungs to swell and produce mucus, making it difficult to breathe. In many cases, an inhaler is used to treat and manage the condition, but some research studies suggest that natural approaches like drinking coffee, eating ginger, and practicing breathing techniques can also help ease your symptoms Having a serious medical condition and experimenting with alternative approaches to treating an asthma attack is not something to be taken lightly (or perhaps at all). We turned to the experts to find out why people living with the condition should exercise caution when it comes to deviating from their medical treatment plan.
There are several types of asthma, including exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), which typically occurs when a person is physically active; allergic asthma that can be triggered by an allergen; and pediatric asthma, which affects children. Common symptoms of asthma can include chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. In addition, according to the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, there are four grades of asthma: mild intermittent, when symptoms may appear less than twice a week; mild persistent asthma that occurs more than twice a week; moderately stubborn, which can affect a person on a daily basis; and severe persistent asthma, which is the most extreme case and includes symptoms that last throughout the day and can even wake you up at night.
Severe asthma can be defined as having daily symptoms despite medical treatment or severe airway obstruction, a pulmonary specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Severe asthma is much less common than mild or moderate asthma.
Every few years, a new study comes out proposing a new natural remedy for treating asthma. For example, a study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society suggests that some asthma sufferers might use ginger as an herbal remedy to relieve asthma symptoms because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Another study in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests that coffee might also help treat the condition, since caffeine is chemically related to theophylline, an ingredient used to prevent wheezing in asthmatics.
But doctor says that dumping your asthma meds for one of these natural remedies is probably not the best idea. The best medical evidence focuses on drugs, she says. As for natural remedies, I would need to think about how that person is doing with their medications and how to minimize exposure to triggers, so it would be very case-by-case. She adds that when it comes to asthma, symptoms and severity vary from person to person, and a personalized treatment plan recommended by your doctor is best.
Asthma is not curable, but it can be controlled. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, some asthma medications are designed to control sudden symptoms, while others, like biologics, work to correct the underlying causes by targeting the protein that causes mucus buildup and inflammation in the lungs in the first place triggers airways. Biologics are usually given through injections, while other drugs are given via buffers, also known as inhalers. In addition to these Rx fixes, there are a few complementary techniques you might consider if you find your asthma is being triggered:
A recent study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that the Buteyko Breathing Technique (BBT) coupled with medication leads to improved spirometry (a test that measures how well your lungs are functioning) in children with asthma. BBT is a method that teaches people to control the speed and volume of their breath. Study participants who used this method along with medication saw a significant improvement in breath control compared to the group that simply followed their usual treatment. (Drug reduction was not recommended for either group.) If you’re interested in trying BBT, talk to your doctor to find out when and how often to use the technique.
Here’s how it works: First, sit in a relaxed position and breathe normally. Next, inhale, then exhale, and after exhaling, hold your nose closed with your index finger and thumb for at least 10 seconds until you feel the urge to breathe again. To repeat. While BBT does not prevent an asthma attack from occurring, it can help slow and regulate your breathing when exposed to an asthma trigger.
Experts agree that BBT and other breathing techniques like the Papworth method (which is also used to relax breathing) in conjunction with medication can help with certain types of asthma, but medication still reigns supreme. These methods may work for the mildest forms of asthma where anxiety or stress can be a trigger. These other therapies can help patients feel better that they can control things, but to really treat asthma, you need medication.
Aside from ginger, coffee, and deep breathing, always have an asthma action plan written out. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the document, which contains information about what medications you’re taking and how to tell if your symptoms are getting worse, should be filled out with your doctor and kept with you in case of an asthma emergency.
Additionally, it’s important for any patient with asthma to have a rescue inhaler, it’s important to measure your peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) regularly with a special handheld device that can be used anywhere and tests for early uncontrolled asthma. Different brands of these plastic PEFR meters use different measurement methods. Therefore, it is best to consult your doctor to determine how to read your specific device.
You want to be ready and have a plan, if your asthma is somehow uncontrolled, if you have an attack and don’t have your inhaler with you, or if you’re not getting the relief you need, go to the emergency room, stat, for medical help.
The Health Meteor Channel – Please do subscribe.