Australia and New Zealand rank second and third in the world after the UK in the asthma commonness stakes. Asthma always requires medical management, but there are several steps you can take on your own to minimise the frequency and severity of attacks.


What is it?

Asthma is a disease in which the airways of the lungs swell and tighten, restricting airflow and making it hard to breathe. During an asthma attack, the narrowest airways (the bronchioles) constrict. This causes the release of chemicals such as histamine that increase inflammation and swelling and produce excess mucous. Though many asthma attacks are mild and easily controlled at home, severe ones can cause sufferers to begin to suffocate. And for an unlucky few each year, an asthma attack is fatal.


What causes it?

External or internal factors can provoke asthma attacks, and some people are sensitive to both. Outside triggers usually involve an allergen, such as pet hairs, a particular food, dust and dust mites, insects (including cockroaches), pollen and many environmental pollutants. Internal triggers, which are usually less obvious and can be harder to avoid, include stress, anxiety, temperature changes, exercise and respiratory infections such as bronchitis.


What are the symptoms?

  • Tightness – not pain – in the chest.
  • Wheezing or a whistling sound when breathing.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, which improves when sitting up.
  • Coughing (often with phlegm).
  • Restlessness or insomnia.


Are there any natural therapies?

Asthmatics are often deficient in key nutrients, especially vitamin C, magnesium and vitamin B6. Vitamin C as an antioxidant appears to act immediately to combat inhaled irritants. It may also halt an allergic reaction by preventing the cells from releasing histamine (the anti-inflammatory effect). Furthermore, Vitamin C is very effective for exercise-induced asthma; taking 2000 mg before a workout may even prevent an asthma attack. The mineral magnesium can prevent attacks by inhibiting the contraction of the bronchial muscles. Vitamin B6 supplements reduce wheezing and other asthma symptoms.

The flavonoid quercitin has two main effects: it inhibits the release of the histamine and, as an antioxidant, it neutralises unstable oxygen molecules, which can cause bronchial inflammation. The prescription herb ephedra (ma huang) can widen respiratory passages. It seems to work best when it is used with herbal products that bring up phlegm, such as licorice or horehound. (Don’t take licorice for any longer than a month.)


What else can I do?

  • Keep your home clear of dust and pollen. Avoid cigarette smoke.
  • Stay away from cats; their hair is highly allergic.
  • Remain calm. Managing stress helps you fight asthma.
  • Treat colds and flus promptly to reduce the chances of an attack.
  • Wear a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm cold winter air.
  • Keep an asthma diary to help you determine your asthma triggers.
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to keep mucous loose.


Did you know?

Eating lots of onions may help asthma sufferers. The mustard oils (isothiocyanates) they contain seem to promote healthy lungs.