Asthma — An Allergic Response
By: Giselle Mazurat
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For millions of people afflicted with asthma, the simple act of breathing can be a constant struggle. Doctors have seen an alarming increase in the number of people suffering from asthma. Since the early 1980's, deaths from asthma among Canadians aged between 10 and 34 have more than doubled.

While asthma usually appears in childhood, it can also strike adults who have never experienced asthma symptoms. Although children sometimes outgrow asthma of their early years, it can return in later life.

Between asthma attacks, the asthmatic normally seems to be healthy. The asthma attack begins when antibodies in the nose and throat cells sense a foreign agent. The body's immune system responds by releasing chemicals that constrict the airways to keep the foreign agent out of the body. This release of these chemicals triggers the asthma attack; and the person begins to wheeze, cough and struggle to breathe.

Some of the chemicals constrict the airway muscles immediately, while others take up to six hours to trigger an allergic reaction. Doctors call this "postponed reaction" a late-phrase inflammatory response. So, the person may experience a second attack long after the first one has passed.

Causes of Asthma

Asthma is inherited in about 60% of the cases. About 60% of asthmatics suffer from allergies that trigger asthma attacks. In non-allergic asthmatics, attacks can be triggered by cold air or exercise.

Various allergic and environmental agents that can trigger an asthma attack include dust, tobacco smoke, diesel, fumes, air pollution, pollen, feathers, perfumes, chemicals, textiles such as cotton and flax, and detergents. The dander of household pets, which is dried saliva and skin particles, can also be a potent allergen. And, about 20% of people who have asthma work with industrial chemicals, wood dust or vanishes.

Indoor air pollution may play a larger role in the spread of asthma since wall to wall carpeting and home humidifiers create an environment for the asthmatic’s worst enemies – dust mites. These microscopic spider-like creatures live in mattresses, pillows, sofas and carpets where they feed off the particles of dead skin shed by humans. They do not bite or transmit disease, but their droppings contain a potent allergen that can trigger an asthma attack. Some experts urge asthmatics to enclose mattresses, box springs and pillows in plastic bags to deprive the dust mites of food and reduce the chance of an asthma attack.

Experts are still not sure why more and more people are suffering with asthma. Some scientists believe children have a greater risk of developing asthma if their mother smoke. And surveys show that more young women are smoking.

Research shows the overuse of a family of adrenaline-like drugs, called beta-agonists, can create more problems for the asthmatic. These drugs are highly effective at stopping wheezing attacks. However, the patient can develop a tolerance and experience more serious attacks later on.

Treating Asthma Naturally

Many respiratory problems, including asthma, have been effectively treated through methods in alternative medicine such as diet and nutrition, herbal medicine and hydrotherapy.

The advantages of using natural methods to treat asthma are obvious. Injected or taken as tablets, steroids such as prednisone can produce adverse side effects including muscle weakness, peptic ulcers, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, menstrual irregularities, headaches, dizziness and glaucoma. These drugs can also stunt growth in children and cause latent diabetes.

When treating asthma, the alternative physician can recommend changes to the patient's diet to strengthen their immune system. Examples of dietary changes include eliminating allergens, correcting digestive problems and establishing the proper balance of essential fatty acids. The physician may also tell the patient to eat a variety of foods and avoid artificial colorings and flavorings, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sugar and all preservatives.

The patient can also add nutritional supplements to their diets such as vitamins C, B6, B12, niacinamide and magnesium chloride. For patients with acute asthma, some doctors recommend an intravenous injection of these same vitamins and minerals. Bee pollen has also proved useful for some asthmatics affected by airborne allergens. Asthma due to high stress can also be relieved by adding half a teaspoon each of sea salt and baking soda to a sweet drink or juice.

Several herbal remedies are available as teas or tinctures. Among these are ephedra (in its natural rather than concentrated form), a highly effective "bronchodilator", especially when combined with thyme, which acts as an antispasmodic.

Mullein tea is especially good for night attacks since it soothes the mucous membranes. It can be combined with marshmallow and slippery elm for an additional mucous-secreting effect. Passion flower tea or tincture can also be effective in treating asthma caused by stress. Other valuable remedies include licorice root, Indian tobacco, skunk cabbage, green tea, onions and garlic.

Hydrotherapy has also proven to be an effective method for treating asthma. Methods such as hot fomentations to the chest, hot foot baths, sauna, steam baths and hydrogen peroxide baths really help those suffering from acute attacks.

A Word of Caution

Only a qualified health professional should administer these therapies. They can diagnose you properly and give you the right therapy.