Kick the cigarette habit. Tobacco smoke can be an irritant that triggers asthma as well as an allergen that touches off an allergic response leading to asthma. Tobacco smoke is one of the worst irritants known: It paralyzes the tiny hairlike cilia along the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. It also reduces immune response and leaves a smoker much more susceptible to upper respiratory infection. In addition to preventing asthma attacks, quitting smoking will reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and many other conditions, as well as save you money.
Nonsmokers who live with a smoker are no better off. Secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to children and teenagers. So if there's someone in your household who won't quit smoking, ask that individual to take his or her habit outdoors.
Weather the weather. Pay attention to how changes in the weather affect your asthma. You might even keep an "asthma journal" by recording the temperature, wind velocity, barometric pressure, and humidity on days when you suffer attacks. Knowing what types of weather conditions can leave you gasping for air can help you avoid problems. While each person responds to weather differently, some general trends may be noted.
For instance, people with asthma should stay indoors when it is very cold outside, since a rush of cold air can cause a spasm in the bronchial tubes. Stay indoors if the wind is strong, too. While gusts of wind can blow pollution and smog away, they can also blow pollen in your direction. If you enjoy walking in the rain, you're in luck, because rain tends to wash away roving allergens, pollutants, and irritants.
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People with asthma should stay indoors when it is very cold outside,
since a rush of cold air can cause a spasm in the bronchial tubes.
Existing scientific evidence suggests that food allergies are probably not a major trigger for chronic asthma in adults. Nonetheless, you may have noticed that certain foods worsen your symptoms. If so, it's best to limit or avoid foods that aren't necessary for a balanced, nutritious diet. (Ask your doctor if you're not sure.)
Allergies to certain types of food, especially milk and wheat, are more often a trigger of asthma in children. If milk and wheat seem to be causing problems for your child with asthma, eliminate these foods from his or her diet. Check labels, and avoid foods that list milk, milk solids, casein, whey, or caseinate as ingredients. (Talk to your family doctor about alternate dietary sources of nutrients such as calcium.)
Eating away from home can sometimes be a problem. If you are invited to dinner and don't know what meal will be served, eat something at home before you leave so you won't be left hungry should the main course be a trigger food for you. If you are eating in a restaurant, inquire about the ingredients in the dish you want to order.
No matter where you have your meal, don't overeat, don't eat too fast, and don't talk while you are eating. Steer clear of alcohol, too, especially if you are taking medications for your asthma. One final reminder: Avoid so-called cytotoxicity tests and similar methods that promise to root out hidden food allergies and cure asthma.
Protect your health. A problem in the upper airways, such as a respiratory infection, can cause trouble in the lower airways (the bronchial tubes) and precipitate an asthma attack. While taking steps to avoid getting sick makes sense for everyone, maintaining good health can dramatically reduce the frequency and intensity of asthma attacks.
Stay away from people who have a cold or the flu, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid getting overtired; otherwise, you will be more susceptible to infections. It's a good idea for asthmatics to get a flu shot each year. If, despite your best efforts, you do develop an infection, see your doctor; early use of antibiotics, when appropriate, can be quite helpful.
Avoid chemicals. Any number of chemicals can trigger an asthma attack in susceptible people, whether it's chemical fumes, such as from paint or perfume, or chemical additives, such as the sufites that are used as preservatives in food. Keep your distance from these chemicals whenever possible.
Avoid aspirin and certain drugs. Some people with asthma are sensitive to some drugs, especially aspirin and nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Play it safe and avoid aspirin and products that contain it if you have asthma. Even if you have not experienced an asthma flare from aspirin in the past, it's possible for one to occur at any time. Keep aspirin out of your medicine chest, and check labels on every over-the-counter drug that you purchase. Avoid those that list "aspirin" and those that contain the initials "ASA," "APC," or "PAC;" ask your pharmacist if you are unsure if the medication you want to purchase contains aspirin.
According to an expert report from the National Asthma Education Program, people with asthma should also stay away from certain NSAIDs (ibuprofen is one such medication) that have effects similar to aspirin's. Opt instead for such "usually safe alternatives" as acetaminophen, sodium salicylate, or disalcid. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter painkillers, click here.
You may also need to avoid tartrazine (yellow food dye #5), which is found in a number of soft drinks, cake mixes, candies, and some medications, if it aggravates your asthma.
Take a deep breath. Inhaling through the mouth often produces shallow, unsatisfying breaths that can resemble panting. Practice inhaling slowly through the nose in a controlled way, instead. Before you start breathing exercises, blow your nose to make sure that your air passages are clear of foreign matter. Then sit in a chair in a comfortable position. Take a deep breath and feel your breath going as far down as possible. Your abdomen should expand as you do this exercise. Exhale slowly, feeling your abdomen relax as your breath comes out of your nose. Repeat this exercise at least three times a day (but never right after eating and never in a hurry, which may trigger hyperventilation).
Exercise your options. For years, people with asthma have been told to avoid exercise because it would induce attacks. Research has shown, however, that getting regular aerobic exercise increases the amount of huffing and puffing an asthmatic can tolerate. Start by warming up with light exercise before a more vigorous workout. Begin with short workouts and gradually increase them.
At least at first, keep a bronchodilator with you. If you feel tightness in your chest and can't work through it, use the device. If you are out in cold or dry air, wear a scarf around your nose and mouth to heat the air before breathing it in. Cool down with light exercise at the end of your workout. If one type of exercise still brings on attacks, try another form of exercise. You may not be able to tolerate running, for example, but you may be able to swim regularly.
Keep your weight down. Exertion causes overweight people to breathe more deeply, forcing their hearts to work extra hard supplying blood to the muscles and organs. If you are overweight, losing weight will ease your heart's burden; unfortunately, asthma medications can cause you to pack on pounds. If you need to lose some pounds, you and your doctor should work together to establish a diet and exercise plan that will help you burn more calories and reduce your calorie intake without depriving you of necessary nutrients.
Mind your mind. The notion that asthma is "all in your head" has gone the way of many medical myths. However, doctors believe that asthma is an illness with both physical and emotional aspects. For example, asthma attacks can be triggered by emotional changes, such as laughing or crying, or by stress. While you may not be able to "think away" an asthma attack, keeping your mind at ease may prevent you from panicking at the onset of an asthma attack, which will make a bout with breathing trouble less scary. Develop an upbeat mind-set by committing yourself to feeling better. A positive attitude works wonders to enhance your other coping methods. In addition, be forthright about your asthma; others will respect your directness and, in most cases, try to make things easier for you.
Learn to relax. Since stress and emotional upsets can trigger or aggravate asthma attacks, it may be helpful to set aside time each day, preferably the same time, to practice some form of relaxation.
In our final section, we will look at some natural home remedies for asthma that involve some of the common foods that are probably in your kitchen right now.
For more information about asthma and the allergies that can trigger an attack, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat go to our main Home Remedies page.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
- Read How Allergies Work to learn the causes, symptoms, and types of allergies.
- How to Allergy-Proof Your Home includes advice for reducing allergens in your home.
- For a variety of safe and effective remedies for allergy symptoms, read 27 Home Remedies for Allergies.