Asthma fact sheet

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The incidence of asthma has risen dramatically in recent years. In 1980, five million Americans were diagnosed with asthma. This year the number will be closer to 20 million in part because of rising levels of ozone and other airborne pollutants.

Causes of asthma

Most doctors view asthma as simply a breathing problem caused by obstructed airways. To reduce this obstruction, doctors tend to rely on bronchodilators, adrenaline and other prescription drugs.

Trap: Drugs have severe side effects, including headache, nausea and rapid heartbeat and they do not control the chronic inflammatory process that underlies asthma. Medication is one part of a comprehensive asthma program.

Asthma self-test

1. Are you breathing wrong?

Proper breathing technique involves using the diaphragm to expand the belly. Asthmatics tend to breathe from the chest, lifting their shoulders as they inhale

2. Do you need more than one breath to finish each sentence when speaking?

Many asthmatics need to breathe in mid-sentence.

 3. Do you have a rapid pulse?

If so, you may be responding to a lack of oxygen or may have an underlying allergy.

4. Do you make a wheezing sound as you breathe?

Wheezing is usually a sign of inflammation, narrowing of the airway or excess production of mucus.

5. Are you often anxious?

Fear of suffocation gives many asthmatics chronic anxiety.

6. Are you in pain?

Because they use the wrong muscles to breathe, asthmatics often have abdominal, back or chest pain or tenderness in the ribs.

If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, see a doctor right away for a medical exam.

Lifestyle inventory

As part of your medical exam, you and your doctor should review several key issues

• Allergies and intestinal complaints.

• Medication

Discuss all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take. Many drugs can exacerbate asthma, including hormones, antibiotics, antidepressants, antifungals, acid blockers and anti-hypertensive.

• Home environment

Discuss where you notice symptoms most how your home is heated and cooled what sort of floor coverings you have and what household cleaners you use.

• Work environment

Are you exposed to cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, copier dust and other lung irritants? Is your office well-ventilated?

• Dietary practices

Deficiencies in magnesium, vitamins C and A and other antioxidant nutrients are contributing factors in many cases.

· Immune status

Do you suffer from frequent colds? Do you wake up tired after a full night’s sleep? If so, your immune system may be compromised.

If this review finds a potential source of trouble, your doctor may want to test your blood or skin for allergies evaluate nutrient levels in your body test your immune response and/or analyze your digestive tract.

Once the doctor understands the factors involved, he/she can help you plot a program to keep your symptoms in check.

Asthma-proofing your home


Every asthmatic needs a “safe room” someplace to go during an asthma attack. For most people, the best choice is the bedroom. Here’s how to prepare your safe room

• Dust frequently

Dust frequently with a specially treated cloth that prevents dust from scattering.

• Remove all carpeting.

• Encase your mattress, box spring and pillows in airtight vinyl covers

This helps get rid of dust and dust mites, which can trigger an asthma attack.

• Eliminate water leaks

Eliminate water leaks and other sources of humidity.

• Consider purchasing

Consider purchasing a high-efficiency particle-arresting (HEPA) air filter. Cost: $150 and up.

• Consider getting rid of houseplants.

While plants themselves are not a problem, plant soil often contains mold, which can trigger an asthma attack.

Avoiding trigger foods

People are often surprised to learn that what they eat affects their breathing. For some, asthma is caused by unsuspected aller¬ gies or sensitivities to “trigger” foods—eggs, shellfish, nuts, seeds, soy, etc. For others, the culprit is pesticide residues or food additives.

Since no two people are alike in this respect, your doctor may order skin tests to identify specific triggers.

Antioxidants to the rescue

Asthma is sometimes a result of lung damage caused by free radicals. These renegade molecules are found in polluted air and are produced by the body during vigorous exercise. By consuming more antioxidants which neutralize free radicals many asthmatics notice a swift reduction in symptoms.

Antioxidant foods: Broccoli, squash, cauliflower, garlic, carrots and onions. Many asthmatics are helped by taking a daily capsule of fish oil or if they’re sensitive to fish flaxseed oil. Oils found in fresh mackerel, salmon and tuna have an anti-inflammatory effect on the lungs.

Ask your doctor about taking grape seed extract…and a daily supplement containing magnesium (250 mg) vitamin A (4,000 IU) vitamin C (1,000 mg) and vitamin E (400 IU). Magnesium reduces elevated levels of calcium, which can cause the breathing muscles to spasm.

Magnesium-rich foods: Tofu, spinach and beets.

For severe asthma, intravenous magnesium may be required.

Three breathing strategies

• Belly breathing

Lie on your back on a mat, with knees bent and feet slightly apart. Place a hardcover book on your lower stomach, with the binding touching the bottom of your rib cage.

Breathe in through your nose. As you do, lift the book as high as possible using your stomach. Keep your chest relaxed and motionless.

As you exhale, use your abdominal muscles to squeeze every last bit of air from your lungs. Repeat slowly, taking about four breaths per minute.

• Blowing out the candle

Take a deep “belly” breath. Then exhale, pursing your lips firmly and blowing through them as forcefully as you can. Imagine that you’re blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

• “Breathing through.”

If your breathing starts to accelerate because of emotional stress or an incipient asthma attack, shift over to belly breathing.

Notice any tension in your jaw, shoulders, chest or neck. Allow those body parts to relax.

Let your feelings “flow” even if they’re negative. Don’t try to stop them with short, shallow breaths or clenched muscles.

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