A common concern of moms and dads - especially when asthma runs in the family - is how they can prevent their children from getting asthma. New evidence suggests there are things you can do - or not do - to at least reduce the risk your child will develop asthma.
I think the surest way to prevent your child from acquiring asthma is to not give your child the asthma gene. Yet there seems to be quite a bit of evidence that even folks with no history of asthma can develop asthma. Good examples of this are premature births (immature lungs) and occupational asthma.
To get a better understanding of why the following may lead to asthma you should read up on the hygiene hypothesis that surmises asthma may be caused by lack of exposure to bacteria, and the microflora hypothesis that surmises asthma is caused by an imbalance of microbes in the intestines.
Likewise, click on the links provided in this post for further reading.
So you want to prevent your child from developing asthma. The following are some things believed to prevent one from developing asthma:
- Breastfeeding: The child will be exposed to microbes in the mother's milk that the child's immune system needs to develop properly. I wrote more here. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes here that infants where eczema and asthma runs in the family who were breastfed at least three months were 42 percent less likely to develop asthma than infants not breastfed for three months. The American Accademy of Allergies Asthma and Immunology (AAAAorg) reports that breast milk also strengthens the immune system. Exposure to cow milk and soy proteins may cause an allergic response that may lead to asthma.
- Vaginal birth: The child will be exposed to bacteria for the immune system to develop properly. In fact, studies show c-sections increase the asthma risk by 80 percent as I wrote here.
- Attendance at daycare: The immune system will be exposed to plenty of bacteria to develop properly and remain strong throughout childhood.
- Large family: The immune system will be exposed to plenty of bacteria to develop properly as proven by this study reported by The American Accademy of Pediatrics. Likewise, The New England Journal of Medicine reports families with more than two children has declined from 36 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 1998. As family sizes get smaller, asthma rates have risen.
- Large intake of fruits and vegetables: Provides your body with vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system strong.
- Omega 3 fatty acid found in fish: Several studies as you can read here and here show that populations with adequete levels of fish oil in the diet have lower asthma rates. The theory is that acids found in fish oil prevent the allergic response that causes inflammation of the respiratory tract.
- Cats and dogs: Early exposure has been shown to prevent dog and cat allergies, and allergies can lead to asthma. I wrote about this here.
- Farm life, primarily pig exposure: Studies show asthma rates for kids who live on farms are lower, and the theory is due to bacteria from pigs and other animals the kids are exposed to.
- Community resources: Educational and financial opportunities greatly influence asthma rates because it proveds better exposure to diagnosis, treatment, and medicine. You can read more here.
- Normal respiratory rate: Studies show people who have chronic respiratory rates greater than 20 have a greater risk of developing chronic inflammation of the air passages.
- Vitamin D: Lack of exposure to the sun may cause asthma. Studies show people with higher vitamin D levels have better lung function because it helps the immune system function better.
- Exercise: Overdoing exercise can actually cause asthma due to high respiratory rates, and this may be one reason olympians have high asthma rates (may be referred to as occupational asthma. Yet fat tissue has also been proven to release chemicals that cause inflammation in the air passages that can lead to asthma, and exercise can prevent obesity along with strengthening the heart, lungs, and immune system and mental status.
- A healthy diet: High fat foods may cause inflammation in the lungs. Obesity has been linked to increased asthma rates. I wrote about this here, and you can read more here.
- Treating nasal congestion: Sinusitis and rhinitis (hay fever) may lead to airway inflammation and cause asthma if the nasal congestion is not diagnosed and treated swiftly.
- Treating eczema: Studies show eczema may lead to asthma, yet if diagnosed and treated swiftly the risk may be reduced. I wrote about this here.
The following are things you should avoid exposure to:
- Broad spectrum antibiotic s: They wipe our your normal bacteria your immune system needs to develop and function properly. I wrote about this here.
- Inhaled chemicals and fumes: Long term exposure to chemicals (such as at your work) can cause chronic inflammation of the air passages. This is a common cause of adult onset or occupational asthma.
- Air Pollution: Long term exposure to high pollution levels (like from car exhaust and ozone) may lead to chronic inflammation of the air passages. I wrote about this here.
- Premature birth: If the lungs don't have a chance to develop properly this can increase the asthma risk. Sometimes this can't be prevented, yet being a wise mom and listening to the advice of your doctor is a good place to start.
- Mold: It has substances in it that increase airway inflammation. Don't leave water sitting around, clean up and prevent standing water in basements, paint moldy or repair moldy walls or floors, etc.
- Viruses: Keep young kids -- especially infants -- away from people with colds. Lung infections, especially when the lungs are developing, may cause asthma (such as RSV, bronchiolitis). Of course, accomplishing this may be easier said than done. I wrote more here.
- Exposure to cigarette smoke: Studies show exposure may cause asthma as I wrote here. Moms should also avoid 1st, 2nd or 3rd hand smoke during pregnancy.
- Unhealthy foods during pregnancy: AAAAI.org reports, a proper diet during pregnancy
- Delay exposure to allergens: The AAAAI.org reports this may also help prevent asthma.
- Stomach acid in lungs: Gastrointestinal reflux (GERD) should be properly diagnosed and treated.
To this point in history better knowledge, technology and medicine has not stopped asthma rates from rising, especially in western nations.
American Accademy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology statistics show asthma rates climbed 160 percent from 1980 to 1994, and The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported reported 4.3 more people were diagnosed with asthma between 2001 and 2009.
Yet as technology, knowledge, and medicine continues to improve, perhaps we can prevent premature birth, provide kids at high risk for developing asthma with some sort of bacterial vaccine, reduce pollution I imagine despite our greatest efforts some cases of asthma may not be preventable, such as asthma caused by exercise, premature birth, and viral infections.
As we learn more, we certainly can make a gallant effort to do better. Doctors might want to make an effort to reduce c-section rates, allow pregnancies to go to term, and encourage breast feeding. Better technology and regulations may reduce pollution rates. Elilminating uneccessary use of broad spectrum antibiotics may help. There are things you can do to, such as educate yourself, keep your homes free from mold, wear masks when exposed to chemicals and fumes at work, encourage your kids to exercise and eat healthy, and make sure stuffy noses and colds are treated promptly and efficiently.
Asthma experts are working hard to learn about the causes of asthma. Perhaps with all of us working together we may see asthma rates start falling sometime soon, and hopefully someday asthma may be a rare malady.