Asthma is a chronic airway disease characterized by reversible episodes of bronchoconstriction, or airway narrowing with an underlying inflammation. The narrowing of the airway leads to obstruction of airflow and produces the classic asthma symptoms of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. The symptoms often occur at night or in the early morning and the airflow obstruction is often reversible either spontaneously or with treatment. Usually the patient experiences exacerbations (attacks) interspersed between intervals of diminished symptoms or symptom-free periods.
Common triggers of asthma include:
- Allergen exposure, such as pollens, domestic animals (cats and dogs), dust mites, cockroaches, etc
- Inhaled irritants, such as cigarette smoke, dust, and environmental pollutants.
- Respiratory tract infection, especially viral infections
- Exercise and hyperventilation
- Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Medications, particularly non-specific beta-adrenergic receptor blockers, aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Emotional stress.
How is asthma treated by conventional medicine?
Depending on the severity of symptoms, asthma is usually treated with a multi-drug regimen. A short-acting bronchodilator, such as ProAir® (albuterol), is often used to reverse the airway obstruction during an acute attack. Inhaled steroid, such as Flovent® (fluticasone), Pulmicort® (budesonide), or Asmanex® (mometasone), is often prescribed for daily use to reduce airway inflammation and therefore decrease drcrystalsong.com attacks. Other medications for long-term management of asthma include Singulair® (montelukast), Intal® (cromolyn), and Xolair® (omalizumab). Oral steroid is reserved for severe cases of asthma.
Conventional treatment can be life-saving during an acute asthma attack. However, long-term management, especially steroid, is mainly suppressive of immune system and far from curative. For example, side effects from inhaled steroid range from severe reactions such as adrenal suppression, growth suppression in children, elevated blood sugar and osteoporosis, to common reactions such as oral thrush and increased risk of infections in upper respiratory tract.
What are the naturopathic alternatives for asthma?
Naturopathic medicine emphasizes treating the root cause(s) of a disease. Asthma is a complicated and multifactorial disease process. It is almost impossible to pinpoint one particular factor as the root cause of an individual patient’s asthma. A person’s constitution or genetic predisposition, nutritional status, triggers of asthma attacks all need to be addressed. Different methods of naturopathic medicine, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and nutritional supplements, can work synergistically and safely to get asthma under control. And most importantly, these methods work together to improve a patient’s overall health. However, there is no single regimen that will work for every asthmatic patient. Treatment must be tailored to fit each individual. Some key points in asthma treatment include:
- A healthy diet and proper digestion are absolutely the first things to consider in any health issues, because your health starts from your gut. Eighty percent of the immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract. A healthy diet is not only a nutritionally rich and balanced diet, but also a diet that is appropriate for one’s constitution. For example, ginger, which is hot and drying in nature, would be a good choice for an asthmatic person with loose and profuse sputum. But it can aggravate the asthma in a person with dry and nonproductive cough. Optimal digestion of foods can encourage the growth of friendly gut bacteria, improve immune function and eliminate many food sensitivities. According to Chinese medicine, poor digestion gives rise to accumulation of dampness and eventually phlegm, which is an underlying issue in many asthma cases.
- Improving immune function and preventing respiratory tract infections are keys to management of asthma. Infections of lower respiratory tract in early childhood, such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis (RSV) and pneumonia, has been linked to a higher risk of developing asthma later in life. Once asthma is established, viral infections in the upper respiratory tract (cold and flu) become one of the main triggers of asthma in many patients. A vicious cycle is often observed in asthmatic children, in that a cold or flu triggers asthma, which in turn brings on bronchitis or even pneumonia, which leaves residual inflammation in the lungs and makes the person more prone to asthmatic attacks. Proper naturopathic treatment can break this vicious cycle and allow the lungs to recover from insults.
- Restoring adrenal function will balance the immune system and increase body’s own anti-inflammatory capabilities. Adrenal gland is a very important endocrine organ and it makes several important hormones including corticosteroid, which is the original model of steroid drugs. As with many chronic illnesses, the patient’s adrenal glands are often overwhelmed and exhausted. Decreased adrenal function is even more likely if the patient has been taking inhaled or oral steroid because steroid suppresses one’s own adrenals. By supporting and restoring adrenal function, the body will regain its own power of controlling inflammation in the airways, and as a result, patient will enjoy more asthma-free days.
Contact Dr. Song at 480-388-0099 if you have any questions on naturopathic treatment of asthma.