I’ve gained a lot of insight and knowledge since my first asthma attack 36 years ago at the age of four. Thanks to improved treatments, comprehensive research, and learning more about personal triggers, the anxiety about having a severe attack doesn’t weigh on me daily as it did when I was growing up. And while both my physicians and I would say my asthma has improved and stabilized in some ways over the years, there are still occasional seasons where it rears its head. In many of those cases, I can clearly see the trigger — a word my family was not familiar with when I was a child.
In addition to trying various treatment options, I credit some of my improvement in my breathing to various lifestyle changes, plus the addition of complementary therapies.
Below are 6 things I believe help me better control my asthma:
Vitamin D supplementation — A fat-soluble nutrient, Vitamin D is known for playing an important role in our immune regulation and is believed to regulate over 900 genes in our body. Numerous studies over the years have shown a link between asthma diagnosis and poorly controlled disease states in patients with low Vitamin D levels. In some recent clinical trials, scientists have concluded that Vitamin D may play a protective role in exacerbations of asthma, while other trials have remained inconclusive.
Personally, I believe supplementation with Vitamin D has benefited my health in numerous ways. First, I completed a blood test ordered by my primary physician to determine if I was in fact low in Vitamin D. I had a feeling my levels were low, as I tend to stay out of the sun due to lupus complications, and I also live in a cloudy area of the U.S. near the Canadian border. After learning my serum Vitamin D (25OH) level was at 4 nmol/L, considered to be extremely low, my doctor put me on supplementation of 5,000 IUD per day. Healthy serum Vitamin D (25-OH) levels are considered above 50 nmol/L. Since supplementing for several months, I have noticed less use of my inhaler and an added benefit - a happier mood.
Coffee — Coffee may not be the first thing that comes to mind when trying to control one’s asthma, but caffeine is similar in chemical structure to theophylline, a bronchodilator. Numerous trials have studied the effect of coffee on asthma symptoms and have found that even a low-dose of caffeine can improve lung function for up to two hours after consumption. Armed with this info, I feel even more validated when I reach for my coffee every morning! Of course, I would always use my medications if I were having active asthma symptoms.
Ginger — I consider myself ginger’s number one fan, and have been using fresh ginger root for inflammation and nausea for years. Naturally, I was thrilled when I came upon some recent clinical studies that ginger is being considered as an herbal remedy for people with asthma. These studies have shown that specific components of ginger have the ability to directly relax ASM (airway smooth muscle) in humans, potentially inducing bronchodilation and increasing airflow.
More studies are being conducted, but for now I will continue my daily use of homemade ginger root tea!
Acid Reflux Management — Over the years, scientists have recognized a link between GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease – and asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, GERD can trigger asthma symptoms and some asthma medications may relax the esophageal sphincter, causing GERD symptoms and creating a viscous cycle.
Acid reflux and “silent reflux” has been an issue for me for several years. When it is at its worse, even my vocal chords become red and inflamed (an ENT can check for this by performing a Laryngoscopy), which led to throat tightness, coughing, and more asthma issues. Remedies that help me include not eating several hours before bedtime, sleeping on a wedge pillow when GERD symptoms are moderate to severe, and using a proton-pump inhibitor like Nexium.
Journaling — Journaling is an easy act of self-care that can be executed in a regular notebook or decorative journal. For me, it became a daily part of my life over 10 years ago when I was trying to learn more about my triggers regarding asthma, allergies, and lupus. Today, I still write down the foods I eat, how I am feeling, if I feel short of breath, what medications or supplements I am taking, what type of stressors I encountered, etc. I now have years of information and trends that allow me to know what triggers I need to stay away from (like dust, shellfish, and cats), and what medication and complementary therapies have helped.
Butyeko breathing — If you have never heard of the Butkeyo Breathing Technique or BBT, let me be the first to tell you that it is an incredible tool to have at your disposal. I use it during times of breathlessness, asthma attacks, and also panic attacks. It is believed that hyperventilation or dysfunctional breathing can aggravate asthma symptoms or negatively affect one’s control of his or her asthma.
BBT is typically practiced every day, and can be used to control breathing and prevent hyperventilation/breathlessness when someone overexerts himself or herself, or comes in contact with an asthma trigger. Simply put, it is a shallow-breathing and breath-holding technique that follows a breath ratio of 4-7-8. While this form of breathing does not improve lung function, it can help diminish symptoms and decrease unnecessary use of inhalers.
While these techniques and complimentary therapies have helped me over the years, it may take a little trial and error to determine what will work for you. My suggestion would be to begin with a journal, allowing you to keep track of potential triggers involving food, exercise, chemicals, etc. It might also be helpful to see an allergist to have allergy testing completed. Also, speak to your physician if you believe you might have GERD. Last, do your own research into foods, herbs, and breathing exercises that can help people living with asthma. In time, you will create a personalized care plan that can help you thrive, despite asthma.