There’s nothing quite as vitalizing as a breath of warm, fresh summer air, but for the more than 3 million Canadians living with asthma, hot weather can pose a multitude of challenges. Fortunately, there are natural ways to breathe easy.
A deep inhalation breathes life-giving oxygen into our body, clears our head, decreases stress, and allows for stale old material (carbon dioxide) to be exhaled. However, the delicate lining of our airways can be affected by many external and internal irritants.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway that can affect children and adults alike. Irritants or “triggers” cause the airways to constrict and spasm, leading to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. Excess mucus production may also accompany these distressing symptoms, leading to increased congestion and pressure.
Asthma and missing out
Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism from school. It’s also the third leading cause of work loss.
Asthma can be classified into two categories: allergic and nonallergic. Allergic asthma results from exposure to allergens (often the same allergens that cause hay fever). Common triggers for allergic asthma include
- dust mites
- animal dander
Other physical triggers can set off asthma symptoms, too, but are considered nonallergic. These include
- tobacco smoke
- chest colds
- strenuous physical exercise
- weather changes
Nonphysical triggers such as stress can also exacerbate asthma. No matter the classification of asthma, the effects can be distressing.
Trauma and asthma
New research has linked traumatic events in childhood to a greater likelihood of developing asthma.
The most common treatment for an acute asthma attack is an inhaler, a hand-held device that quickly de-escalates the inflammatory response by the body. There are also long-term daily medications to ease airway problems.
However, in addition to appropriate medication, there are many natural asthma remedies you can use on a daily basis to help control symptoms.
Focus on consuming foods with anti-inflammatory properties, such as wild salmon and raw fruits and vegetables. Antioxidant-rich foods such as blueberries, pomegranate, or pumpkin can help clean up free radicals causing damage to the lungs. Consider decreasing foods containing sulphites; these preservatives can trigger asthma symptoms in some asthmatics.
Try cooking with the following herbs and spices, which may have airway-relaxing properties:
Aged garlic extract has also shown promise. However, be aware that spices such as cinnamon and garlic can trigger allergic asthma symptoms in some people.
Food allergies and asthma
Researchers are exploring links between food allergies and asthma. Keeping a food/reaction log and getting an allergy test may help you discover and avoid the foods that are most aggravating.
Reducing exposure to environmental triggers remains a top priority for those suffering from asthma.
During the summer, levels of some air pollutants rise, creating difficulty for asthma sufferers. In addition, hot weather and thunderstorms may trigger symptoms in some people. It’s a good idea to avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day and to plan outdoor activities for earlier in the day when air quality is usually better.
Indoor action plan
Around the home, identify and remove environmental triggers that may be causing asthmatic episodes.
- Have vents and air filters cleaned throughout the year.
- Switch scented candles for pure beeswax tealights.
- Opt for natural laundry and dish detergents that do not contain fragrance or colours.
- Use plants to help clean and filter the air, and consider using essential oil diffusers (see sidebar for suggested oils and precautions).
A recent study found a link between gum disease and severe asthma. Study subjects with periodontal infection were five times more likely to have airway inflammation. Regular flossing and brushing is recommended to help mitigate this—but make sure the toothbrush is helping, not harming.
“A clean toothbrush is a big step toward excellent lung health,” says Jenny Jun, ND. “Often people use the same toothbrush for too long, which can accumulate a lot of junk.”
Toothbrushes should be replaced every three to four months.
If stress exacerbates your or your child’s asthma, take steps to reduce stress. Write thoughts down in a journal or listen to relaxing music during the day. Consider joining a therapy group for support and healing techniques. Some nervousness can be alleviated in children by having easy access to their inhaler and knowing a team of family and friends is nearby.
“The lungs are related to sadness in Chinese medicine theory,” says Jun. If this rings true for you or your child, seek a counsellor or alternative practitioner to help work through these feelings.
Breathing exercises may help with asthma symptoms, as may acupuncture and yoga. A recent review of studies found that in 10 out of 15 studies, there was significant improvement in asthma sufferers because of yoga.
Jenny Jun, ND, says herbs that are strengthening for the airways include mullein and marshmallow. Premixed herbal remedies to benefit respiration are available at your local health food store. Make sure you check with your health care practitioner before trying new herbal remedies.
Supplements for asthma
According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, omega-3-rich fish oil may reduce the inflammation leading to asthma symptoms. Other useful supplements that show promise in aiding those with asthma include
- probiotics (more research needed)
- vitamin D
- n-acetylcysteine (NAC)
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
- black seed
Speak with your health care practitioner before trying any new supplement.
Inhalation of certain essential oils, especially eucalyptus, can be effective at decreasing bronchial spasms and dissolving excess mucus in the respiratory tract. Other scents to use in a diffuser include lavender and ylang-ylang.
As everyone’s asthma triggers are different, use caution when trying essential oils and only do so after consulting your health care practitioner.