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Alternative Asthma Treatments

Is there an alternative asthma treatment plan that works?

The answer to that question is ‘maybe’. There are various alternative asthma treatment plans and natural therapies that some people claim have been effective for them. However, there’s a new approach that is proving useful for many people and gaining increasing acceptance from the medical community. It is called biofeedback training or biofeedback treatment.

So what is biofeedback training? And how effective is it as an alternative asthma treatment?

In essence, biofeedback training is about gaining a degree of conscious control over unconscious / involuntary body functions in order to contain disease symptoms. For instance, in the case of asthma, biofeedback researchers say that it may be possible for patients to consciously relax their tracheal muscles and thus stop an asthma attack.

Biofeedback Training

Actually, there are more than a dozen different illnesses that are being treated – with at least some degree of success – using biofeedback therapy. Asthma is one of them.

Everyone has learnt at school that the body has certain automatic functions like the heart beat, blood flow, body temperature, etc and that these functions are completely outside our conscious control. However, it has been discovered at least several decades ago that a certain amount of conscious control over normally unconscious / involuntary body functions is possible through training. The National Institutes of Health say that some people can even reduce their blood pressure by simply willing it.

Biofeedback training falls under a grouping called Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The Yale neuroscientist Dr. Neal Miller once suggested that automatic muscle functions can be consciously influenced. He was called a heretic by the medical community. However, Dr. Miller’s statement was subsequently shown to be true.

Migraine patients have successfully used biofeedback training to gain relief. Biofeedback is, in fact, accepted as a form of treatment for migraine. Some kinds of asthma are being treated with these techniques. Research is being done on how to utilize biofeedback training for treating high blood pressure, perhaps even as a primary treatment for that health condition.

How can biofeedback training be used as an alternative asthma treatment?

In an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding the bronchial passages become inflamed. If those muscles can be induced to relax, asthma victims would find it easier to breathe. Medication can relax those muscles. And biofeedback training has also shown its effectiveness in achieving muscle relaxation and thereby minimizing asthma symptoms.

Asthma patients, by and large, have abnormal breathing patterns. Biofeedback training can be utilized to both recognize and correct improper breathing habits.

For instance, asthmatics tend to take a deep breath in followed by several short, shallow in-and-out breaths. The result is that their lungs never become completely empty. If they don’t get empty, they obviously can’t be refilled properly either. Therefore, these people are always short of breath. This breathing pattern is called barrel breathing.

Using a process called pneumographic biofeedback, barrel breathing patients come to recognize their altered heart rate when they breathe incorrectly. Then they consciously alter their breathing and observe its effect on the heart rate. They work to lower their heart rate and bring it within normal range. They do this by breathing correctly.

There have been several small studies relating to this training. The conclusion was that it does help to reduce asthma symptoms. Further, it may even help lower lung inflammation and breathing obstructions characteristic of asthma patients.

One study that was detailed in the American College of Chest Physicians during 2004 stated that asthma patients trained using the above process needed to use less medication. In addition, they improved pulmonary function. The authors of the study said that biofeedback training may be useful to help patients reduce dependence on steroids to control asthma.

While there is increasing acceptance for biofeedback therapy as an alternative asthma treatment, patients should take care to work only with a well-trained, qualified biofeedback therapist. And the doctor should be kept fully informed at each stage. He must monitor the patient’s condition over time and make necessary adjustments to the medications.

Asthma information: Foods that can help control the disease

Can eating the right foods help you bring asthma symptoms under control? The available asthma information concludes that the answer is yes, in a lot of cases. It is a fact that eating right will help with many health issues. The FDA states that a healthy diet is a very important factor in preventing the onset of many killer diseases that have become common today.

It is easy to see the connection between diet and the prevention / healing of problems like heart disease and diabetes. But is there a connection between diet and asthma?

Nutritionists say there is in fact, a strong connection. At a fundamental level, the body operates through a series of complex chemical interactions. It needs the right nutrients to feed those chemical activities.

Healthy Breathing

Breathing is one such chemical process. Breathing and the process of utilizing oxygen in the cells is accomplished through many chemical interactions. The ingredients involved are the oxygen taken in, the nutrients consumed and what the body creates out of those nutrients.

Here’s a look at what happens during normal breathing and during an asthma attack.

As is apparent, there are many muscles involved in the act of breathing. When you breathe in, the diaphragm muscles and the chest muscles expand to accommodate air into the lungs. During exhalation, these muscles relax. Then there are the muscles around the airways itself. These muscles can either contract to decrease the amount of air going into the lungs, or expand to allow more air to flow in. In an asthmatic, these airway muscles become inflamed. As a result, the ability to bring enough air into the lungs is reduced.

It is obvious that healthy breathing depends on all these muscles remaining healthy. By the same token, improving the health of these muscles will help improve asthma symptoms.

Nutrition specialists say that if you are an asthma patient, your diet should contain sufficient levels of omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and quercetin. These substances help control inflammation of the muscles and maintain proper lung function.

The bronchial muscle is directly affected by magnesium, which helps dilate the bronchi. That is why enough magnesium in the diet is important – it helps keep the bronchial muscles in good tone. Foods that help include almonds and spinach salads. Chocolate has lots of magnesium in it. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are very good too. So is avocado.

The damaging effects of air pollution can be mitigated by having enough anti-oxidants in the body – quercetin is an anti-oxidant. Quercetin-rich foods will help significantly, say some nutritionists because it helps combat the pollutants that can set off an asthma attack. Of course, having sufficient anti-oxidants in the body has many other health benefits too.

Quercetin-rich foods include cranberries, pears, green cabbage, apples and onions, among others.

Some asthma patients take a drug called theophylline, which reduces the ability to utilize a component of vitamin B6. In such cases, vitamin B6 supplements will help. There is some evidence that this vitamin helps reduce wheezing in asthmatics. Foods that contain vitamin B6 include sweet potatoes, turkey, sunflower seeds, salmon, tuna and avocadoes.

In patients with exercise-induced asthma, taking vitamin C right before exercising helps them prevent asthma attacks. Research shows that many asthmatics are vitamin C deficient. This vitamin can help cut down on how often asthma attacks occur as well as the severity of those attacks.

Oranges, fresh strawberries, red bell peppers, potatoes, tangerines, kiwi fruit – all are rich in vitamin C and will help with asthma symptoms.

As you can see from the above asthma information, there is a direct connection between asthma and diet. Eat right and you have better chances of bringing your symptoms under control.

What are asthma inhalers and how should they be used?

A Look at Asthma Inhalers

Asthma inhalers have made life significantly easier for both doctors and patients. Inhalers are portable devices that deliver asthma medication directly to the lungs and can be easily used in any setting. This means that an asthma attack – which can happen at any time – can be treated with medication right away, without waiting for medical help to arrive.

It is not too far fetched to say that asthma inhalers are the main reason why patients with acute asthma symptoms can function with a high degree of independence.

Asthma inhalers form the key element in emergency rescue medication for use during asthma attacks. Carrying inhalers makes it possible for patients to travel or engage in sports without fear of the consequences of a sudden attack. Some kinds of inhalers are however not for use in emergencies and are rather for treating chronic bronchial problems.

Types of inhalers

There are two kinds of inhalers – metered dose inhalers and dry powder inhalers.

Metered dose inhalers use a chemical propellant (usually a fluorocarbon) to deliver the medication as a fine mist into the air. The patient presses a plunger to release a preset dose of medication.

The other kind of asthma inhaler is the dry powder inhaler. Manufacturers developed this partly in response to concerns about fluorocarbons having an adverse affect on the atmosphere. The difference here is that the medication is delivered in the form of a powder rather than as a mist.

Types of medications used

Emergency rescue inhalers use a class of medication called short acting bronchodilators. These medications do their work by inducing the muscles surrounding the bronchi to relax, which helps the patient breathe more easily. Common drugs used include pirbuterol and albuterol and they are effective for around four to eight hours only.

Another kind of asthma inhaler makes use of long acting bronchodilators. They are not meant to be used for short term relief in an asthma attack. They include medications like formoterol and salmeterol which relax the bronchial muscles over a period of time. These drugs are used to treat chronic problems.

Some asthma inhalers contain corticosteroids, which is used as preventive medication. Corticosteroids have long lasting effects and help to reduce inflammation in the bronchi. Typically, corticosteroids are used once or twice a day as part of an ongoing treatment plan.

There are also inhalers making use of non-steroidal medications like nedocromil and cromolyn which control inflammation. Finally, some brands of asthma inhalers contain a combination of a long-acting bronchodilator and a corticosteroid.

Using asthma inhalers

It is best to follow the doctor’s instructions on how to use asthma inhalers. Here are some general guidelines.

Metered dose inhalers are pressurized canisters, somewhat like small spray cans. Place the canister mouthpiece against the patient’s mouth. To release a dose of medication, press down on the canister’s top and the medication comes out as a fine mist. The patient should inhale the medication through the mouth at the same time that the canister top is pressed.

This coordination can be quite difficult for small children or for the elderly. To get around this problem, a hollow tube called a spacer is placed between the inhaler outlet and the patient’s mouth. This allows the patient to inhale the medicine over several breaths instead of a single breath.

Dry powder inhalers do away with the need for any such coordination. These inhalers are activated by the patient’s breath. The patient has to put his lips onto the mouthpiece of the inhaler and take in a quick, sharp breath. This will pull in a dose of medication in powdered form.

Asthma inhalers have given patients the enormous benefit of being able to lead normal lives. They should be used according to an asthma action plan drawn up by a doctor for each patient.

Asthma relief with nebulizers

The portable inhaler is the most commonly used device for delivering asthma relief medication. However, some asthma patients have trouble using inhalers because of the coordination required between pressing down on the inhaler and breathing in the medication. For instance, young children as well as old people who are very ill may not be able to use inhalers. In such cases, nebulizers are used to provide asthma relief.

What is a nebulizer? It is basically a device that delivers medication in the form of a fine mist that can be breathed in through a face mask / mouthpiece. The medication in the nebulizer is in liquid form which is then converted into a mist.

The main components of an asthma relief nebulizer are the air compressor, nebilizer cup and a mouthpiece / mask connected using flexible tubing. There are also nebilizers that don’t use an air compressor. Instead, they use sonic waves to achieve the same effect.

Dispense medication

Nebulizers may be used to dispense medication like Proventil or Atrovent, which are bronchodilators. The nebulizer delivers medication directly into the lungs and is a highly effective delivery method. It is also much easier to use than inhalers.

The nebulizer and medication must be used only with your doctor’s prescription. You will need to be shown how to use a nebulizer – a respiratory therapist or a nurse can help you with this. Once you are familiar with its operation, you can use it yourself to take medication.

How to use a nebulizer for asthma relief

Follow the doctor’s instructions precisely when using a nebulizer. The following guidelines are fairly general and the instructions you receive may vary.

In most cases, medication for use in nebulizers is in the form of a liquid. A specified quantity of medication must be poured into the bottom of the nebulizer cup.

Once the medication is in place, the nebulizer cup must be closed. The face mask or mouthpiece must now be attached to the top portion. There is flexible tubing going from the air compressor to the nebulizer cup – this must be be fixed in place.

If everything is set up correctly, when you turn on the compressor, you should see a fine mist coming out of the mouthpiece or face mask.

Now place the mouthpiece between your teeth. The lips should be closed around the mouthpiece to retain the medication inside. In nebulizers that come with a face mask, fix the mask in a comfortable position over your nose and mouth.

Breathe in and out in a relaxed manner. Try to hold the breath in for a second or two so that the medication can seep into the lung tissues. Continue breathing the medication in until the nebulizer cup is emptied of the drug.

Each session with an asthma relief nebulizer generally takes seven or ten minutes. Most people who use a nebulizer find it an enjoyable experience – they can relax for a few minutes in a restful position while the medication does its work. A few patients find it frustrating to sit still for even this short period of time. In such cases, the doctor may be able to prescribe other alternatives.

Like all other medical equipment, nebulizers must be maintained well. The cup, which holds the medication, should be thoroughly washed after each use. At the end of each day, use a mild detergent to wash the mask / mouthpiece and the cup. They should be allowed to air dry after that. In addition, every two or three days, use a mixture of vinegar and water to disinfect the equipment. You can also use a commercial disinfectant.

Maintaining the nebulizer is important to eliminate the possibility of an infection. Used properly, nebulizers are very effective in providing asthma relief.

Can breathing exercises really help improve asthma symptoms?

Some asthma patients claim that breathing exercises have helped them reduce their asthma symptoms; in some cases quite dramatically. Is there any evidence to back up their claims?

Breathing exercises are considered part of complementary and alternative medical treatments. There are many different kinds of breathing exercises – ranging from ancient techniques based on yoga to modern biofeedback training systems. On the face of it, claims of improvement may seem to have a basis, because asthma is a disease of the lungs and so might respond to training in breathing.

A study on this issue was published by Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine. This study concluded that some types of alternative treatments may have a positive effect on asthma symptoms. The researchers say that both quality of life and lung function might be improved with breathing exercises. The authors mention that such exercises may form a useful complement to conventional medicine and that retaining exercises certainly warrant further research.

Pranayama Breathing Techniques

It appears that pranayama, which is a set of breathing techniques originating from yoga practices, is the most effective among the different types of training studied. Groups of adult asthmatics were trained in pranayama techniques and monitored for asthma. These persons showed considerable improvements in asthma symptoms.

Lung function is measured objectively using peak flow meters. The asthma patients above showed no improvements in lung function although their asthma symptoms certainly improved. Apart from pranayama, muscular relaxation techniques and Buteyko breathing techniques also resulted in improved asthma symptoms.

Some experts estimate that almost a third of all asthma patients have some degree of impairment in their breathing function. That is why a combination of biofeedback training and breathing exercises may help asthmatics.

Even in cases where such training does not directly improve asthma symptoms or lung function, learning to breathe properly is likely to have a positive impact on the patients’ overall health and quality of life.

The researchers also observed that muscle relaxation training helps asthma patients breathe more easily than before. They studied a group of thirty three patients and found that their asthma symptoms as well as overall life quality improved significantly with the use of muscle relaxation techniques. Moreover, those improvements continued to be evident six months after the training was given.

A couple of other studies concluded that patients’ dependence on bronchodilators came down with relaxation training. Not only did the quality of life improve, the patients’ maximum inspiratory pressure also showed improvement.

Finally, the researchers suggested that further studies were needed to uncover the exact strategies that lead to the best improvements in asthma symptoms. Breathing right does have major health benefits.

This does not mean that you can toss out bronchodilators and be fine just by leaning yoga and relaxation. Both ongoing preventive medication as well as emergency relief medication is critically important. If you choose to take up breathing exercises or other types of complementary therapy, it is necessary to keep your doctor informed. He will be able to monitor your progress and make adjustments to your asthma management plan as needed.

How to find an asthma-friendly school for your child

Your child will spend about thirty five hours per week at school. That’s approximately one third of her waking hours. If she is prone to asthma attacks, those hours may be filled with anxiety for you as a parent. What will happen if she were to get a sudden asthma attack at school? Will the people in charge be able to handle the situation well?

Is the school doing everything it can to provide a safe environment for asthmatic children?

Today, many schools have zero tolerance for any kind of drugs on the campus. This is understandable in most cases. However, for an asthmatic child, this policy could potentially prove fatal.

Access to Medication at School

You need to know if your child will have access to life saving medication at school, at the precise time she needs it. You need to know if she will be able to take preventive medication according to a schedule drawn up by the doctor. Are there people available who know exactly what must be done when a child has an asthma attack? These considerations are doubly important if the school follows a blanket no-drugs policy.

To assess how asthma friendly a school is, here are several questions you should ask.

  • Does the school monitor and control the quality of air indoors? This is important because asthma attacks are often triggered by airborne substances including pollen, animal dander, pet hair, dust mites and so on. Check if the classrooms have upholstered furniture or carpets, which can be a source of dust mites.

    Does the school use strong chemicals for cleaning? Are there paint fumes from a recent or ongoing paint job? Are there adequate pest control measures to check cockroaches and other pests (cockroach allergens are a very common trigger for asthma attacks)?

  • Does the school have a plan in place for dealing with asthma attack cases? Are the teachers and all other adults aware of how to help a person having an attack? Since this disease can strike unpredictably at any time, it is critical that the adults present be able to take care of the child.

  • Are the school premises totally tobacco-free? This is important for asthmatics. No smoking should be allowed by anyone anywhere in the school – either indoors or out.

  • Is the child allowed to carry an emergency inhaler with her at all times? If the child is prone to asthma attacks, having an inhaler close at hand could save her life. Unfortunately, there are many schools that do not allow children to have any kind of medication with them – even essential, life-saving drugs. You may want to keep your child far away from such schools. Remember, it is not enough if your child is allowed to keep her inhaler at school locked away in a cabinet. That can cause delays in receiving medication which can put her life at risk. Such arrangements are completely unacceptable for asthmatics.

    At the end of the day, your child’s life is far more valuable than any rules and regulations imposed by school managements. Keep that in mind if the school administration attempts to bully you into submission.

  • Does the school have a nurse available throughout the day, every day? Some schools do, but this is not always feasible. At the minimum, a nurse’s services should be available at regular times to students to take care of asthma and other medical emergencies.

  • Does the school promote physical activities in a safe manner for asthma patients? As an example, children with asthma may need to take preventive medication half an hour before beginning physical activity.

  • Asthma is a very common health condition these days. Some estimates say as much as seven percent of the population is affected by the disease and certain schools are said to have a full quarter of their students affected by asthma. Does the school educate both adults and students about the disease? Everyone needs to know the essential facts about the disease.

Ensure that the school is a safe place for children with asthma before you enroll your child. If necessary, talk to the principal, the teachers and the parent-teacher organization to create a safe environment for your asthmatic child.

If you have breathing problems, could it be asthma?

Many people around the world are asthma patients without knowing it. They may have one or more symptoms of the disease including breathing problems, but may not realize the seriousness of the issue. There is no reliable estimate of the number of people with ‘hidden asthma’.

It is true that asthma is on the rise in America and in the rest of the world. Some statistics indicate that asthma related breathing problems account for a loss of about fourteen million school days per year and another fourteen and a half million work days in the country. The real cost is probably several billion dollars.

Breathing Problems?

There are several possible signs and symptoms that point to asthma. Breathing problems are an obvious one. Some people get out of breath when they walk even a short distance. This can be due to other factors including lack of fitness, but in many cases asthma is the underlying reason for breathing problems.

Others have persistent coughs that don’t go away even after months of medication use. Most of the time, the cough is not very bad, although it gets worse and the person may end up coughing very hard for a short while.

Other people may have sounds inside their chest while breathing, particularly at night, which make them think they have a cold. Or they may have a slight wheezing that they don’t consider very seriously.

Asthma can exhibit other symptoms as well, like tightness in the chest or shortness of breath for no apparent reason.

Neither breathing problems nor any of the other symptoms mentioned above is a conclusive indicator of asthma. However, they warrant medical attention to discover the underlying cause even if it is not asthma.

Factors / symptoms like the ones below might point to the presence of asthma.

  • Allergies – do substances like pollen, pet dander, dust, etc trigger allergic reactions?

  • Family history of either asthma or allergies (or both)

  • Wheezing during or after exercise

  • Coughs that do not go away or get worse at night. Sleep that is interrupted by night-time coughing

  • Wheezing triggered by cold. Having a cold at all times.

  • Having to stay away from work because of symptoms like those above.

If one or more of these symptoms are present, the affected person must go for a medical checkup. If these symptoms occur in a child, the parents must be doubly careful. Asthma in children is particularly problematic and can have many consequences like poor performance at school, depression, etc.

Overall, breathing problems and other such signs does not necessarily confirm the presence of asthma. However, medical attention should be sought if such symptoms are present.

What you should know about asthma in children

Asthma in children can be a truly frightening experience. An asthma attack is bad enough in adults. It can cause acute distress to a child who is yet to reach a basic level of understanding.

An estimated five million children in America suffer from asthma. Asthma in children usually manifests by age five or earlier. Boys tend to have a higher incidence of the disease than girls.

The vast majority of pediatric asthma cases – around 80% of them – are caused by allergies. The child usually inhales the allergen, which triggers a series of biochemical reactions that results in an asthma attack. For this reason, the single most important factor in managing asthma in children is to identify the specific allergen/s that triggers the disease and to avoid exposure to those substances.

Child asthma attacks

If the child has other health conditions like sinusitis or rhinitis, it can increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause asthma to worsen. Certain medications like aspirin as well as beta blockers (used to control hypertension) are known to worsen asthma.

In general, triggers for asthma in children are similar to those for adults and may include the following.

  • Dust and dust mites

  • Mould and fungi

  • Animal dander

  • Cockroach parts

  • Pollen from trees, weeds, grass, etc

  • Wood smoke

  • Second hand tobacco smoke

  • Strong fumes or odors including paint fumes, industrial pollutants and perfumes

Apart from the above, asthma attacks in children can also be triggered by high levels of stress or anxiety, exercise (this is called exercise-induced asthma) and cold air.

There are several risk factors that predispose children to developing asthma. Low birth weight is one. So is the presence of asthma in close relatives or having a family history of allergies. If the mother is exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy or if the child is exposed to it after birth, it can lead to a higher risk of developing asthma. If the child is allergic to one or more substances, that can heighten chances of becoming asthmatic. Infections affecting the respiratory tract can also increase the risk, particularly if such infections occur repeatedly.

Controlling asthma in children involves two kinds of treatments – quick-acting medication to relieve symptoms when attacks occur and ongoing treatment aimed at preventing asthma attacks. Both are equally important. Quick-relief medications should be available at all times to deal with attacks.

If the child has persistent symptoms, the doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs as well.

When a child has a severe asthma attack, treatment should be given as quickly as possible with minimum loss of time. If the attack is severe enough, it may be necessary to give oxygen as well. A beta-receptor agonist prescribed by the doctor should be inhaled continuously, where required.

The doctor will prescribe a specific asthma treatment plan for the child. He will then monitor the child regularly to observe if the plan is effective, measuring lung function using spirometry. If the disease has been brought under control for a period of time, the doctor may adjust the medication accordingly. If there is no improvement, he may prescribe another course of treatment.

With the right care, asthma in children can be brought under control in a majority of cases. Asthma attacks usually respond well to medication and the child can breathe easy again.

Common Types of Asthma

Common Asthma Types

There are several different ways of categorizing asthma. There is no rigid rule about it; these common asthma types are often ad-hoc classifications that developed over the course of years. Some classifications are based on the age at first onset; others depend on the factor that triggers symptoms and still others on where the patient is when the symptoms appear.

Let’s look at a few key asthma types. The first two are based on the age at which asthma symptoms appear initially.

Child-onset asthma

In a majority of cases, asthma begins during childhood or adolescence so this is the most common asthma type. Asthma makes an appearance in a child when the child is hypersensitive to specific allergens in the environment. This excess sensitivity is generally due to genetic factors. Substances that trigger allergic responses include pet dander, cockroach parts, dust mites, pollen, etc. Other factors like breathing in cold air can also cause allergic reactions.

The allergic response involves production of antibodies to trap the foreign substance, which in turn makes the cells in the airway extra-sensitive to allergens. When the child continues to be exposed to the substance/s, asthma symptoms develop and he may have a mild or severe asthma attack.

As with most other asthma types, having a family history of asthma or allergies or both can predispose a child to becoming asthmatic.

Adult-onset asthma

Asthma may start during adulthood as well, although this is less common than child-onset asthma. In fact, asthma can start off at any age, even well into adulthood. Asthma starting during adulthood seems to affect women more than men. This is unlike child-onset asthma which affects more boys than girls.

Some adults do not have allergic responses, but still have asthma symptoms. This can happen when they have conditions like nasal polyps or sinusitis. There are also cases of asthma triggered off by drugs like aspirin.

Adults may also develop asthma as a result of exposure to plastics, metals, wood dust and other environmental / work related substances.

Exercise induced asthma

This is a common asthma type. In this variant of the disease, asthma symptoms occur either during or after physical exertion. Some people never develop asthma symptoms at any other time – they are not allergic to any substance. Their symptoms develop only after exercise.

This type of asthma is often not recognized as asthma. Instead, poor physical health or heart related issues are blamed for the symptoms. If the person is in general good health, asthma should be considered as a possible cause of breathlessness and other symptoms that occur after exercise.

Any activity or sport that calls for continuous movement – particularly in cold air conditions – is more likely to act as a trigger for exercise induced asthma.

Cough-variant asthma

Sometimes, the only asthma symptom present may be coughing. This makes it difficult to identify asthma as the underlying cause, because coughs can be brought about by many other health conditions. Coughing can occur at any time of the day or night. However, in some patients, coughing occurs mostly at night. This can lead to disturbed sleep and other health issues that flow from lack of sleep.

Occupational asthma

Asthma can be triggered by a wide variety of substances. Many of these substances occur in the workplace rather than in the home. Asthma that is set off at the workplace due to one or more factors is called occupational asthma. Possible triggers for such asthma include dust from a factory, chemicals of various kinds, industrial gases / vapors, industrial smoke, etc. Other triggers may include things like pollen, moulds, animal dander, etc which are common in homes as well. Occupational asthma attacks may start sometime after the person arrives at the workplace and often subsides when he leaves the workplace.

While there can be many variations of the disease, the above are some of the most common asthma types.

Asthma symptoms in children to be aware of

You’d think that asthma symptoms in children would be quite obvious. After all, you would definitely notice it if a child is gasping for breath or wheezing uncontrollably. However, it is quite easy to mistake asthma for health conditions like allergies, chest colds and other problems.

As is the case with adults, asthma symptoms in children sometimes go unnoticed or are misdiagnosed. It is easy for both parents and doctors to think the child has spring allergies or a cold, particularly if they are looking at just one episode in isolation.

Asthma must be recognized as soon as possible. In children, asthma can be a particularly distressing disease once it reaches a full-blown stage. Not only do children have to endure the agony and terror of not being able to breathe normally during an asthma attack, the disease can also affect other aspects of their lives like performance at school and their self-esteem.

Asthma symptoms in children may include coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing. They may occur alone or in combination. Since these symptoms are common to other illnesses as well, it is easy to mistake asthma for something else. Undiagnosed asthma can be a serious health issue.

You should watch out for the following asthma symptoms in children

  • Coughing
    If the child has coughs even when there is no cold, it might be due to asthma. Watch out for coughing that starts during or after physical exertion. Asthma often produces a racking kind of cough. Night-time coughs may also be due to the disease, particularly if it appears to be chronic.
  • Wheezing
    This is one of the classic asthma symptoms in children and in adults. Wheezing on exhalation is more common than during inhalation. The wheezing is often loud and can be heard from another room. Any wheezy, squeaky sounds from your child may be warning signs of asthma and you must consult the doctor. Of course, many children with asthma do not have wheezing at all.
  • Shortness of breath
    This is again a classic asthma symptom. Keep in mind that children will usually not be able to identify shortness of breath. You must look out for shallow and/or rapid breathing. There are also other signs of short breath due to asthma such as:

    • Restlessness at night during sleep
    • Nostrils flaring while inhaling
    • A frightened look on the child’s face
    • Trying to draw in breath through pursed lips
    • Deepening of spaces between the ribs while breathing
    • General fatigue or exhaustion even when there has been no physical activity
    • Hunched over posture
    • The hollow of the throat moving in and out while breathing
  • Chronic / frequent illnesses of the respiratory system
    Diseases like bronchitis, frequent colds, pneumonia, etc may indicate that asthma is present, even when other symptoms like wheezing are not obvious.

Other symptoms you need to watch out for include excessive throat clearing, noisy breathing and irregular breathing in general.

The above are the most common asthma symptoms in children. If any of them are present, you must consult a doctor for a thorough evaluation.

Facts about the two major types of childhood asthma medications

What appears to be a persistent cold and cough that refuses to go away often turns out to be childhood asthma.

Over the past two or three decades, childhood asthma cases have skyrocketed. Many health professionals consider it bad enough to call it an epidemic. Asthma is a chronic condition that will require long term medical attention and treatment if it is to be managed well. In addition, asthma will affect practically all other aspects of a child’s life.

However, that is no reason to panic. The good news is that there is a huge amount of ongoing research into asthma. And there are new, improved treatments becoming available all the time, both for childhood asthma cases and for adults.

A few decades ago, most medical professionals thought that the only way to manage asthma was to ensure that it was triggered as infrequently as possible. And if it did rear its ugly head, they treated it with bronchodilators which provided short term relief and allowed the patient to breathe normally.

Today, there is a far greater understanding of the disease. Treatment now involves a multi-pronged approach. Of course, bronchodilators are still used to manage asthma attacks and to provide immediate relief.

Preventive Medication

Apart from rescue medication, the doctor will very likely prescribe what is called preventive or maintenance medication. The objective here is to reduce the inflammation in the airways and hence reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

There are two basic kinds of preventive medication available. One kind is the inhaled corticosteroids (abbreviated ICS) which are anti-inflammatory drugs. They help keep the airways open by reducing inflammation in the bronchi.

Leukotriene receptor antagonists are the other kind of maintenance medications. The lungs contain a substance called leukotrienes, which cause the airways to swell and narrow, thus creating breathing difficulties. The leukotriene receptor antagonists inhibit the production of leukotrienes.

Corticosteroids are the preferred treatment according to the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program.

In practice, doctors have found that different children respond differently to these classes of medication. Some children seem to do best by using ICS every day while others don’t respond to ICS but do well with leukotriene inhibitors.

One of the problems with this is that many parents accept whatever medication the doctor has prescribed as the best possible cure and if it doesn’t work, they don’t go back to him with that feedback. As a result, alternate drugs don’t get prescribed and the problem does not get managed well.

Fortunately, the need for trial and error may soon be eliminated to an extent, thanks to research findings that allow doctors to predict which type of medication will suit a particular child best.

Researchers discovered that inhaled corticosteroids work best on children who had high levels of inflammation along with low lung function. Children who were younger and have had asthma for a fairly short period of time tend to do well with leukotriene receptor antagonists. Other cases of childhood asthma may require actual use of medications to find out what works best.

Childhood asthma can usually be controlled well with the right drugs and lifestyle changes.

Do you have cough variant asthma?

In some people, the only asthma symptom present is a dry cough. Other common symptoms like wheezing, labored breathing, chest constriction, etc may not be present. This kind of asthma, termed cough variant asthma, frequently goes undiagnosed for a period of time because the patient has no other reason to suspect the presence of the disease.

The cough itself may be a dry, non-productive cough. The term non-productive here means that the coughing does not bring up phlegm or other substances. However, in many patients, coughing brings up sticky mucus; such coughs are also symptomatic of asthma.

A cough is basically a reflex action. It is caused when the mucosal receptors in one or more locations like the larynx, parts of the lungs, nasopharynx, trachea and ears are stimulated. When that happens, a specific cough center in the brain becomes active and it sends out appropriate messages to the diaphragm and other muscles to produce a cough.

Cough provocation

Many things can provoke a cough. The presence of foreign bodies in the nose or even wax in the ear can stimulate a cough. So can breathing in smoke or dust particles. Bronchospasms can produce coughs, as can lung infections and allergic reactions.

A cough that lasts less than a month is classified as an acute cough. It may be the result of an inflammation. Coughs that last over a month are termed chronic coughs. Chronic coughs can subside after a period of time only to reappear many times.

It is essential to see a doctor if a person has a severe cough or if the cough does not go away even if it’s not severe. This is particularly true of asthma patients who previously did not have cough as an asthma symptom, but do now. In all cases, it is necessary to identify the true cause of the cough – and it may have nothing to do with asthma.

In persons with cough variant asthma, the coughing often persists throughout the day and night. It is usually very dry. It often has a tendency to get worse during or after exercise and if the patient exposes himself to cold air.

Cough variant asthma tends to run in families – so one of the first things a doctor will look for is the family history, if he suspects this type of asthma.

It is the asthma that must be treated and not just the cough. Very often, people consume cough syrups to try to get rid of the symptom. While this might provide temporary relief, it will obfuscate the asthma symptom. The doctor will have a tougher time unearthing the real cause of the cough – and that can be dangerous.

The onset of coughing may also be a sign that the person’s asthma problem is deteriorating. Therefore it is doubly important to consult a doctor. In such cases, the right treatment is critical; otherwise the disease can worsen. With appropriate medication, many patients with cough variant asthma can bring the disease under control.

What exercise induced asthma is all about – and what you can do about it

Until recent decades, medical professionals thought that exercise induced asthma and asthma resulting from allergic reactions were entirely different illnesses. However, subsequent research proved that assumption wrong.

As the name implies, exercise induced asthma is brought on by physical exertion. Asthma symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, etc show up during or after exercise. Bronchial and lung tissues may become inflamed, which could be the result of tissues becoming irritated. It could also be due to an allergic reaction. The inflammation can cause shortness of breath. Inflammation can also act as a trigger for bronchial muscle spasms, which may cause severe breathing problems.

Many people are not allergic to common asthma triggers and do not normally experience asthma symptoms. Yet, they may have exercise induced asthma. It is theorised that this might be due to the breathing pattern changes caused by exercise. People who have exercise induced asthma might have a greater sensitivity to changes in the air or to temperature changes.

Rapid Breathing Can Induce Asthma

During exercise, breathing becomes rapid and tends to be shallow. This kind of breathing brings allergens into close contact with the bronchi and lung tissues. Also, when breathing is rapid, the air that reaches the lungs does not warm up as much as usual. We normally breathe through our nose, which humidifies and warms the air before it reaches the lungs. During heavy exercise, oxygen requirements go up and so we tend to take in air through the mouth. This does not allow the air to become sufficiently warm before it hits the lung tissues.

When air that is cool and dry reaches the lungs, it irritates the bronchi and lung tissues. This may release histamines, which results in inflammation and makes the irritation itself worse. This chain of events can set of an asthmatic reaction.

Fortunately, there are several steps that people affected by exercise induced asthma can take to slash the risk of developing asthma symptoms. In some cases, it may be possible to totally eliminate asthma attacks due to exercise.

The bronchodilator inhaler is a critical element in asthma care. It should be used about fifteen minutes prior to exercising, or as directed by the doctor. This one action can greatly cut the risk of asthma. Bronchodilators act to relax muscles in the vicinity of the bronchial tubes. This will prevent asthmatic changes occurring in response to changed breathing patterns during exercise.

Proper warm up before going into an exercise routine will help tremendously. If the body is gradually eased into a new breathing pattern instead of being plunged into it all of a sudden, the chances of having an asthma attack go down. In any case, adequate warm up is essential for many other reasons. After exercise, the body should be allowed to cool down gradually.

Cold air is a very common asthma trigger. Whenever possible, do not exercise outdoors in cold weather. It helps to cover the nose and mouth with a scarf. This will trap humid, warm air in the region of the nostrils so that cold air is not inhaled directly.

Apart from cold weather, the quality of air is another important consideration. During pollen season, or when the air quality is poor due to other factors, it is best to avoid outdoor exercise. As mentioned earlier, the rapid breathing associated with exercise will being pollen and other allergens into closer contact with the lung tissues. That may be enough to trigger an attack.

Having exercise induced asthma does not mean that the affected person cannot enjoy physical activity or life outdoors. With the right precautions and by following the doctor’s advice, it is possible to take part in a wide range of sports and exercise activities.

What bronchial asthma really means

Actually, there is no difference between bronchial asthma and what is normally referred to as asthma. The former is just an old name for the disease. The name came about because asthma involves inflammation of the bronchial tubes. These tubes become constricted and results in breathing difficulties.

Victims of bronchial asthma develop symptoms of the disease at certain times while remaining disease-free at other times. When they have an attack, they exhibit symptoms like shortness of breath and wheezing. In some patients, there are no acute asthma attacks and the only symptom may be a cough at night. This may remain unnoticed for years.

An asthma attack can be fatal. Alarmingly, the incidence of fatal attacks has risen in urban areas, particularly among children.

During the last quarter-century, the incidence of bronchial asthma has increased significantly from around three percent to almost eight percent of the population. The increase is much sharper in the inner cities. The reasons are not hard to find – inner cities have excessive crowding and poor environmental conditions. Common allergens and asthma triggers like cigarette smoke, dust mites and cockroach parts are present in greater quantities.

Tackling Bronchial Asthma

There are several components to tackling bronchial asthma. They include preventive medication, rescue medication, environmental management, education about asthma and regular monitoring.

When someone is diagnosed with bronchial asthma, one of the first things the doctor will do is to explain to the patient what asthma is all about, what signs and symptoms to watch out for and how to take medication (particularly the rescue inhaler). He will also explain how the patient himself can monitor his condition. He may also ask the patient to regularly take peak flow meter measurements. The idea is to become aware of a developing attack before it reaches a critical stage.

Preventive medication is an important element of bronchial asthma control. The doctor may prescribe inhaled or oral corticosteroids. Asthma is associated with chronic inflammation – this medication helps to control inflammation.

Rescue medication – usually a bronchodilator – is used when there is an attack. As the name implies, a bronchodilator expands the bronchial passages making it easier to breathe. It also relaxes the muscles around the bronchi.

Bronchodilators are commonly delivered through an inhaler. When the plunger on an inhaler is depressed, it delivers a measured dose of medication in the form of a fine mist. This is inhaled though the mouth directly into the lungs where it does its work. Asthma-prone persons usually carry an inhaler with them at all times.

An asthma patient must monitor his or her condition continually. In many cases, this means paying attention to body signals. Patients need to watch out if they are getting out of breath more often, or if they are taking longer to recover from exertions, for example.

Sometimes, the doctor may prescribe using a peak flow meter. This instrument measures the person’s ability to breathe. Daily readings using a peak flow meter may be necessary. Monitoring is important because it tells the doctor if the current treatment plan is working. If it isn’t, he will need to modify it.

Lastly, managing the environment is a critical component of dealing with bronchial asthma. This means removing allergens and asthma triggers from the environment or avoiding exposure to such triggers. Affected persons may need to remove carpeting, heavy upholstery, avoid keeping pets in the house and so on. The doctor will be able to provide specific advice based on what triggers the symptoms in each patient.

With the right treatment plan, bronchial asthma can be controlled well in most cases.