What Is Asthma?
Asthma can be unpredictable and scary. It’s a chronic lung condition that causes narrowing of your airways, making it hard for you to breathe. The symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. For some patients, these symptoms can be well-controlled and fairly benign, but for others asthma can be life-threatening. Over two million visits to emergency rooms in the US annually are due to asthma attacks.
The incidence of asthma is on the rise. Scientists tell us that in the past decade, the prevalence of asthma has increased by more than ten percent. One possible reason is that our changing climate has caused an increase in the amount of pollen, allergens, and pollutants in the air, triggering an allergic or an inflammatory reaction in people who are susceptible.
Asthma is characterized by flare-ups that come and go, unlike other lung conditions, such as emphysema and COPD that are associated with constant symptoms. People with asthma tend to have triggers that bring on an attack, which can include cold weather, smoke, allergens, cleaning products, and exercise. Western treatments for asthma incorporate drugs quickly delivered through a rescue inhaler for attacks, combined with longer term medications to decrease inflammation in your airways and prevent future attacks.
Natural Treatment With Chinese Medicine:
In Chinese medicine, asthma is considered to be a condition of chronic phlegm. This simply means that there’s some amount of phlegm hindering your lungs, even when you’re not having an attack. In addition to a diagnosis of phlegm obstructing your lungs, your asthma may also be due to a lung weakness. This weakness is called lung Qi (or energy) depletion, and in addition to asthma it may involve symptoms such as a weak voice, shortness of breath in general, a chronic weak cough, a tendency to feel cold, and catching frequent colds or flu.
Many people choose to treat asthma with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. If you do, your acupuncturist would first begin by taking a history of your symptoms, triggers, and overall health to determine the underlying cause of your condition. Based on their diagnosis, they would likely combine acupuncture with Chinese herbs, food therapy, and lifestyle modifications to treat not only your symptoms, but the underlying source of your asthma. Their strategy would be to strengthen your lungs, reduce the phlegm, support your immune system, and reduce your symptoms—all to decrease the frequency and severity of your asthma attacks.
Here are six things you can do at home to better control your asthma and limit flare-ups:
- Eat in a way that decreases inflammation. This includes foods high in Vitamin C, found in fruits and vegetables. In addition, lots of plant based foods and fish are also helpful. Avoid foods that tend to produce phlegm, such as very fatty or rich foods, sweets, and a lot of dairy foods.
- Enlist the help of caffeine. Research on using caffeine for asthma symptoms has indicated that black coffee can be almost as effective as medications in dealing with asthma. If you have exercise-induced asthma, a cup of coffee or strong tea 45 minutes before you exercise can help prevent triggering your symptoms.
- Breathe to relieve your asthma. Deep breathing exercises, Yoga, or meditation can help strengthen your lungs and reduce your symptoms.
- If the weather is a trigger for you, do what you can to minimize your exposure. Cover your mouth and nose in the winter if the cold triggers your asthma. If outdoor allergens are your problem, close your windows, shower at the end of the day, and change your clothes after being outdoors. For asthma that’s triggered by a very dry environment, get a humidifier to add some moisture in your home.
- Know that there’s a connection between heartburn and asthma. If you have both, controlling your heartburn may greatly reduce your asthma symptoms. Get some help from your acupuncturist as to how best to deal with both conditions.
- Be proactive when it comes to your asthma. Understand and avoid the triggers and behaviors that set off an attack, and know that sometimes it’s a combination of factors, not just one thing. Also, recognize that an asthma attack is serious and can be life-threatening, and always have a rescue inhaler with you. Prevention, acupuncture, and self-care can be a winning combination when it comes to living with asthma.
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Dr. Filiz Bakir is a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine. She is also the medical director and founder of Thrive Wellness Center with offices in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, FL.