Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult. During an asthma attack, the air passages become inflamed, resulting in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. This narrowing results in asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Some people refer to asthma as "bronchial asthma."
Poorly-controlled asthma can lead to multiple visits to the emergency room and even admission to the hospital, which can affect the client's performance at home and work.
There are three major features of asthma:
- Airway obstruction. In people with asthma, allergy-causing substances and environmental triggers make the bands of muscle surrounding the airways tighten, and air cannot move freely. Less air causes a person to feel short of breath, and the air moving through the tightened airways causes a whistling sound known as wheezing. Fortunately, this airway narrowing is reversible.
- Inflammation. People with asthma have red and swollen bronchial tubes. This inflammation is thought to contribute greatly to the long-term damage that asthma can cause to the lungs. Therefore, treating this inflammation is key to managing asthma in the long run.
- Airway irritability. The airways of people with asthma are extremely sensitive. The airways tend to overreact and narrow due to even the slightest triggers such as pollen, animal dander, dust, or fumes.
The Orthodox Approach
Inhaled steroids and Ventolin®, a bronchiodilator, are most commonly prescribed.
The IMI Approach
The Naturopathic Approach. In treating any health condition, a naturopath will look for its cause. In the case of asthma, the cause is often "particle load" in the air and in the lungs — pollutants, dust, dust mites, and pollen. To address this issue, install a good quality air purifier in the bedroom to help reduce the particle load while sleeping. (Excellent air purifiers can be obtained IMI). Homeopathic desensitizing to dust mites is effective.
In addition, supplements of natural anti-inflammatories such as fish oils and anti-oxidants also provide a good base for control. Omega-3 oils, particularly one called Lyprinol, are used to effectively control inflammation, reducing or replacing the need for oral steroids.
Vitamins and other supplements can also be effective in treating asthma. The active form of Vitamin B6 improves asthma in the majority of cases (it does not, however, assist clients on high doses of steroids). The vitamin normalizes a disturbed metabolism of the amino acid tryptophan that is found in asthmatics, reducing its levels and turning it into the helpful compound niacin (Vitamin B3).
Vitamin B12 Methylcobalomine (sublingual) benefits children and young adults, especially adults who are sensitive to the sulphite compounds found in vinegar, wine, and dried fruit. Quercetin is an antioxidant with good antihistamine properties, and is especially beneficial where allergy is a key issue.
Dietary changes can also help asthmatics, as food allergy is a common cause. For instance, inflammation can be naturally controlled by reducing intake of inflammatory foods such as red meat and cheese. In cases where the diagnosis includes an allergy to foods, the triggering ingredient should be identified and controlled. Milk, eggs, soy, and nuts are common food triggers. Avoidance of food additives is also often necessary; for instance, colourings, MSG, and sulphites. In addition, salt makes asthma symptoms worse, so it needs to be limited.
High levels of tryptophan are found in dairy products and meats, therefore, vegetarians often suffer significantly less asthma. Onions, garlic, and a vegan diet have also been proven to help.
Our naturopaths also work with homeopathic treatments to desensitize dust and food allergies.
The Homeopathic Approach. Homeopathy is one of the most popular holistic systems of medicine. Remedies are selected based upon the theory of individualization and symptoms similarity. The aim of homeopathy is to not only treat the symptoms, but to address its underlying cause and individual susceptibility. The only way complete health can be regained is by removing all the signs and symptoms from which the client is suffering.
Homeopathic treatments for children are usually very effective. Desensitization is one method homeopaths use. Treating bad reactions to the whooping cough vaccine are often a part of homeopathic treatment. For adults, homeopathy greatly reduces the incidence and severity of attacks.
The following list contains some important remedies that are used in the treatment of asthma. (Please note that this list is simply a guide; do not attempt to self-treat.)
Yerba Santa Similiaplex by Pascoe. This remarkable remedy will usually stop a dry asthmatic cough caused by an allergy to dust with a single nightly dose, making it a possible replacement for an albuterol inhaler such as Ventolin®. It is particularly good for dry coughing at night in children and also for exercise-induced asthma. It contains homeopathic doses of anti-spasmodic herbs and minerals.
Ipecac [Ip]. This remedy is a close homoeopathic simile to asthma, especially to the spasmodic variety where the symptoms are feeling a great weight and anxiety about the chest, sudden wheezing, dyspnoea (shortness of breath), or a suffocating feeling that is aggravated by motion; the cough causes gagging and vomiting. The cough is constant and the chest seems full of phlegm, yet none is expectorated, and the extremities are covered with cold perspiration.
Ars alb [Ars]. This is indicated in cases when the attacks occur just after midnight. The client has a great deal of anguish and restlessness, and he or she cannot lie down for fear of suffocation. There is anxiety and general sweat, and if the client drowses off, he or she is awakened with burning pain and soreness in the chest. It is an especially good remedy for chronic bronchitis in older clients with shortness of breath that is habitual and dry.
Viscum album is also clinically recommended. It treats weakness of the respiratory system and stertorous breathing.
Nux [Nux.v]. Nux is a useful remedy when the attacks are brought on by gastric disturbances or simple spasmodic asthmas. The client experiences relief by belching and must loosen the clothing.
Kali bichromicum [Kali.bi]. Under Kali bichromicum we find attacks coming on at about three or four o'clock in the morning, compelling the client to sit up to breathe. Sitting up and bending forward relieves the symptoms somewhat, as does the expectoration of stringy yellow mucus, which is characteristic of the remedy.
Lobelia. This is indicated for a paroxysm induced by gastric trouble. There is immense development of gas in the stomach, and little or no cough.
Natrum sulphuricum [Nat.s]. This remedy has an established record in benefiting asthma. General symptoms are worsening changes to damp weather; it has symptoms of moist asthma, with a great deal of rattling in the chest. The attacks generally come on between four and five o'clock in the morning with cough and rising of viscous slime; expectoration is greenish and copious. Another characteristic symptom of Natrum sulphuricum is that the client must sit up and hold the chest with the hands during the attack.
Ant tartaricum [Ant.t]. The great keynote for the remedy is the presence of fine mucous rales (clicking or rattling sounds) throughout the chest; finer and smaller rales than are found under Ipecac. With this remedy the chest seems full of phlegm, with an inability to expectorate it. There is great dyspnoea; the client must sit up, and there are suffocative attacks coming about three o'clock in the morning. It suits the asthmatic attacks of the aged and the dyspnoea of the young children due to pulmonary affections.
Moschus [Mosch]. Indicated in cases with intense anxiety, intense fear, and a smothering sensation. It suits those of a sensitive, highly organized, nervous temperament.
These suggestions are not designed as a complete description, but only provided for indications of the homeopathic approach. Other homeopathic prescriptions are based on the emotional and mental life of the client, which may be a significant cause. For individualized remedy selection and treatment, the client must consult a qualified homeopathic doctor in person.
Other Approaches. Osteopathy is another therapy that is useful to treat asthma, especially if the chest or diaphragm has become tight and rigid.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs are also worthwhile treatments.