Asthma affects 5.4 million people in the UK, 1 in 12 adults and 1 in 11 children, it can start at any age and in adults it cannot be cured but it can be managed effectively. Children with asthma will usually show signs before the age of 5, and half of those affected will no longer be displaying symptoms after the age of ten.
There are two types of asthma: allergic (extrinsic/atopic) or non-allergic (intrinsic/non-atopic) and someone can suffer from the two together. Extrinsic asthma is often hereditary, whilst intrinsic asthma is usually linked to an infection of the bronchi, sinuses, tonsils or adenoids, with the onset and subsequent flare ups occurring as a result of hypersensitivity to bacteria or, more commonly, a viral infection.
An asthma attack often starts with a dry cough which then becomes mucous forming, the cough will often be worse at night or after exercise. The classic symptoms of an asthma attack are struggling for breath as the bronchial tubes become inflamed, clogged with mucous and constricted by the smooth muscles as they try to prevent further irritants from entering the body. As the sufferer struggles to breathe they may make a wheezing sound and become exhausted as their body works harder for breath and less oxygen is transported around their bodies. Children do not always wheeze or show other symptoms, they may just seem to have a prolonged cough after an infection. Signs to look out for in children are them having less energy and needing to rest more during play and a see-saw motion in their chest as their external muscles help them breathe.
Asthma has many triggers. Allergic asthma in particular can be due to sensitivity to perfumes, dust, animal dander, chemicals, smoke, exhaust fumes and pollution and its increase is thought by many to be linked to the increased amount of pollutants in the air. The condition can be made worse by emotional stress, humidity levels and changes in temperature.
Conventional medicine tends to treat the symptoms of asthma, which is great: it provides relief and it saves lives, but the two most common types of treatment, relievers and preventers, are both hormone based and have potential side effects with prolonged use. So, how can we reduce the symptoms (and triggers) of asthma in a gentler, more natural way?
- Firstly there are many essential oils that can help to alleviate the symptoms of asthma and be used to help prevent an attack occurring by strengthening the immune system. To ease breathing I would recommend a steam inhalation or diffusion of lavender and eucalyptus or myrtle (more suitable for children) for its anti-inflammatory, calming and decongesting action. To strengthen the immune system I recommend a massage oil containing ravensara, thyme or myrtle. I’d advise consulting a qualified aromatherapist to gain the best (and safest) treatment, especially for children.
- Asthma has been linked to food intolerances and the common culprits seem to be dairy, wheat, additives, preservatives and fizzy drinks. Try eliminating them from your diet (for a week or two) then re-introduce them one by one to try and notice a trigger.
- Foods that are recommended to relieve asthma include those rich in vitamin B6 (sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, cooked tuna, turkey & chicken, pork, prunes, beef, banana, avocado & cooked spinach) cranberries (anti-spasmodic) the herb thyme (antispasmodic, antiseptic, bactericidal) liquorice (expectorant) garlic (anti-bacterial) turmeric (dilates bronchi) and fenugreek (reduces mucous production) and those that are high in vitamin C (yellow peppers, kale, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, tomatoes and peas)
- Honey may help, especially in cases of allergic/atopic/extrinsic asthma. Local honey and manuka honey may be especially beneficial
- Stress and anxiety can increase the possibility of an asthma attack and its severity so regular relaxation methods can be used to help this such as massage, especially if combined with aromatherapy, meditation, yoga and breathing exercises/pranayama.