Simplify your life - Natural treatment: Children with asthma - sucking the breath out of your childhood

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Asthma. One of those diseases that most people just don't get.  The problem with being asthmatic is you look fine most of the time, and you are kind of fine up until the moment that you are not. And then it is too late.

I have asthma, I was diagnosed when I was very very young. Although I didn't actively battle with it, I was always aware of the way my body reacted (and still does) to certain "normal" things. And a few times my Mom got me to the hospital just in time. I outgrew most of the pesty symptoms and because I know my triggers I have always kind of been able to manage it without daily medication. I have asthma, but it does not rule and dictate my life.

Research has shown that if the mother has asthma her kids have a 1 in 3 chance of also having it. If the father has the disease you increase the chances to a 7 out 10. Husband also have asthma.

A1 never gave us even a slight worry that she might have asthma. No niggling cough or wheezing chest. With A2 this was another story. She got chest infections easily. Her coughing never stopped, most days getting so bad that she would vomit. Her chest was graggy and made a faint wheeze when she breathed. She had her first proper attack just shy of 18months. Shortly after another. And another.  We ended up in ER with her with blood oxygen levels of 72 where it is supposed to be 95. After this episode, her paediatrician "diagnosed" her. I say "diagnosed" because before the age of 5 any medical opinion is given solely on the grounds of observation and medical history. After 5, or as soon as the child can follow more complex instructions, a breathing test can be done for a formal diagnosis.

I joke that she really inherited all my worst qualities - the way she wolfs down her food as if she is scared someone is going to take it away from her, her very strong will, and of course her sucky lungs.

But what is asthma?

It is a common condition of the lungs that leads to breathing difficulty, coughing, and wheezing. It is caused by a combination of the small airways in the lungs going into spasm and inflammation, both of which impair the ability of the lungs to work properly. The severity of asthma symptoms can range from mild wheezing to life-threatening breathing difficulties. In South Africa, it affects about 15% of all children, and we have the 4th most sufferers in the world.

Asthma Symptoms:

  • Sneezing and coughing

  • Wheezing

  • Becoming out of breath when you move or speak

  • Difficulty exercising

  • Pressure and tightness in the chest

  • Watery and red eyes

  • Itchy throat

  • A runny nose

  • Swollen glands and lymph nodes

  • Dry mouth

During an attack:

  • Signs of poor circulation and oxygen, including blue- or purple-coloured toes and fingers or skin changes

  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy and weak

  • Symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating and rapid heartbeat

  • Pale face

  • Inability to exhale.

What Causes Asthma?

There are many different theories about what causes asthma, but toxins and irritants (both from the environment and spending lots of time outdoors) are now recognized as primary root causes. Other factors that contribute include poor nutrition, pollution, antibiotic abuse, autoimmune disorders and other medical disorders that affect the lungs, genetic susceptibility and high amounts of stress.

The Western lifestyle correlates with increased numbers of asthma sufferers, which is not surprising considering the poor diet quality and high-stress environment. Asthma is rare in remote areas of Asia and Africa but much more common in industrialized, Western nations where people commonly eat inflammatory, low-nutrient diets.

Risk factors for developing asthma include:

  • Spending lots of time indoors: This can reduce someone’s ability to effectively build the immune system and also increases exposure to certain allergens or irritants that can accumulate indoors (like dust mites, mould spurs, pet hair and other microbes)

  • A sedentary lifestyle

  • Obesity, allergies and other medical conditions that affect the lungs and cause low immunity

  • Sometimes childhood infections can affect lung tissue and cause the airways to narrow or become inflamed.

  • Genetics: Studies show that asthma tends to run in families, although it usually isn’t completely genetically acquired.

  • Poor posture: Compression of the lungs caused by poor posture might also contribute to symptoms.

  • Exposure to environmental toxins: This can include fumes, pollution and chemicals released from construction sites.

Conventional Treatments for Asthma

Doctors use medications like anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, “anti-IgE” drugs and inhalers (bronchodilators) to help control asthma attacks and prevent emergencies or complications. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks as well: 

Conventional drugs used for treating asthma, particularly steroids, can impair immune function and lead to more serious health problems. Doctors tell you that steroids (cortisone, prednisone) only cause side effects after many years. But new research shows that permanent damage is immediate and devastating. Studies show that steroids cause permanent, debilitating effects after a single dosage. Steroids are probably the most sleazy of modern day medications
— Dr John Mills

Research shows some asthma drugs might contribute to problems including mood changes, acne, yeast growth and weight gain — plus over time they might hinder normal immune functions that make allergic and asthmatic reactions more frequent.

Here’s the good news: You can help treat asthma naturally by lowering environmental and dietary allergens, eating more nutrient-rich foods, addressing the nervous system’s role in lung functioning, and learning to better manage stress. All these home remedies for asthma come with little to no serious adverse side effects as well. But I need to repeat this – never stop with your child’s medication before consulting with your doctor. And if the medication is the only way that you can manage your child’s symptoms then give them the meds. You can support their health and immune system and bodies with natural remedies but never in the place of sound medical advice.

Asthma episodes are triggered by something, and these triggers can be divided into 3 broad categories, or inducers:

1.       Allergies

More than 90% of asthmatic children under the age of 16 are allergic. These allergies can range from airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, or mould, to food allergens such as gluten, dairy, and soy. If you suspect your child might be allergic so something, and that allergies are the main triggers for their attacks, you have two options – a skin allergy test or a blood allergy test. Once the child’s allergic triggers have been identified, steps should be taken immediately to lessen exposure as much as possible or remove the substance from their daily contact. These steps include activities such as daily vacuuming, washing all bedding and linen in hot water, using natural cleaners, using an air filter, using a water filter, etc. For food allergies, the child’s diet must be adapted to exclude these substances.

Although any food can be a potential allergen, the main culprits are dairy, wheat, eggs, gluten, citrus, chocolate, soy and peanuts. If you suspect one of these as the main offender, start with an elimination diet. If you can pinpoint the allergen without a blood or skin test then score! If you do start with an elimination diet, remember most of these potential allergens are frequently hidden in foods, so be sure to read those labels and ask questions!

What you can do over and above medication, including home remedies:

·         Allow fresh air into your home

·         Avoid second-hand smoke, including the smoke from a fire, braai or fireplace

·         Switch to natural cleaning products or use baking soda, lavender oil and vinegar to make your own. Just remember that essential oils can also be a trigger! Always the first test

·         Avoid antibacterial soaps and disinfectants

·         Avoid aerosols and petroleum-based ingredients

·         Use a dehumidifier in damp areas, and fix water leaks to reduce mould

·         Buy a water filter to remove chlorine from your tap water

·         Rather chooses tiles instead of carpets. If you have carpets, vacuum them often

·         Wash bedding weekly, in hot water

·         Use sheets and pillowcases that are non-allergenic and don’t contain down or feathers

·         Keep furry friends out of the bedroom to limit the amount of pet hair you’re exposed to. Clean and brush pets regularly to remove some of their fur

·         Cockroaches are another asthma trigger, so speak with a professional exterminator if you suspect you might have some in your home.


2.       Exercise

The preferred term for this condition is exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. This term is more accurate because the exercise induces narrowing of airways (bronchoconstriction) but is not the root cause of asthma. Among people with asthma, exercise is likely just one of several factors that can induce breathing difficulties. For most people with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, treatment with common asthma medications and preventive measures enable them to exercise and remain active.

If your child’s attacks are worsened or increased with exercise, speak to your healthcare practitioner about alternatives. Exercise is necessary to maintain a healthy weight, it can improve your immune function, lower your stress, and combat inflammation – all integral parts of a holistic asthma treatment plan.

What you can do over and above medication, including home remedies:

·         Find your child’s stress point – if cardio triggers an attack, try something less strenuous like pilates or weight lifting

·         If your child cannot go outside because of the pollen in the air encourage him or her to play outside when the pollen count is at it’s lowest

·         For some asthmatics, high humidity can be a trigger. For other, dry air is an issue. Find out what your child’s trigger is and keep them inside when the weather is dry/wet/etc. Work around the problem instead of avoiding it


3.       Stress

Stress is a common asthma trigger as it suppresses immune function and increases inflammation. Stress and anxiety sometimes make you feel short of breath and may cause your asthma symptoms to become worse. You cannot avoid stress; even for our kids it is part of daily life. However, developing effective ways to manage stress and learning to relax can help you prevent shortness of breath and avoid panic. Encourage your child to speak up when they are unhappy, worried, or uncertain. Teach them healthy coping mechanisms and if necessary, get them professional help.

What you can do over and above medication, including home remedies:

·         Natural stress relievers such as massage, yoga breathing techniques, guided imagery, art therapy, etc. can be very effective when done with young children

·         Make breathing exercises part of your child’s daily routine

Of course you want what is best for your child. When it comes to treating your child’s asthma it means not just blindly following your doctor, especially when your gut tells you something is not right – get a second medical opinion. It also does not mean only treating your child naturally. Unfortunately some medical conditions need the help and support of conventional drugs. The best for your child is to follow the prescribed medication guide, and creating a comprehensive treatment plan that includes medication, adequate nutrition, dietary modifications, allergen elimination, supplements, stress management and exercise.


Precautions When Treating Asthma

When in doubt, seek medical help. I am all for natural treatment, and as far as possible we do steer clear of medication BUT I do not take chances. My natural remedies and treatments are used in conjunction with Western medicine, and only if there are no contra-indications. If your child has an attack and their prescribed medication doesn’t offer relief fast, take your child to the ER. Although it’s rare, asthma attacks can sometimes become fatal, so being cautious is always best.

If your child’s symptoms start worsening, or they have attacks more frequently, see your doctor. Keep track of their symptoms, causes, how long symptoms lasted, what brought relief, etc. Also pay attention to any possible side effects of the medication that your child must use (and use the meds as prescribed! If you have a problem, speak to your doctor about accommodating your doubts or trying a more natural treatment plan) such as a very dry mouth, stuffy nose, pains, swollen tongue, or dizziness.

A2 most probably has asthma. We are starting conventional treatment, and will support this with a change in her diet, decreasing allergens as far as possible, essential oils (if they are not triggers) and supplements. If her symptoms worsen we will firstly consult with her doctor, and then after her medication has been changed adapt the natural remedies to further support her treatment. I am all for natural, but not at the expense of my child.

What have you found worked for your child?