25 Home Remedies for Asthma

Recent asthma statistics show this disease now affects 17 million people in the United States -- that's an increase of 2.5 million people in the past five years. Asthma is the number one cause of chronic illness in kids, affecting more than 5.5 million children. Still, there is reason to be hopeful if you are one of the millions of asthmatics across the country -- although the number of asthma cases continues to climb, researchers are determined to develop more effective treatments. Plus, there are a number of home remedies you can try to ward off attacks and alleviate symptoms.

Understanding Asthma

When you take a breath, the air goes from your mouth or nose to the windpipe (or trachea), where it then travels to the lungs. It first enters the lungs through the bronchi, a group of tubes that branch off from the windpipe, and the bronchi then branch off into bronchioles. Asthma attacks occur when the bronchi and bronchioles come in contact with a foreign invader, or asthma "trigger."

The tendency to develop asthma is inherited, and it is more common among people who have allergies. Indeed, there are two forms of asthma, allergic asthma and nonallergic asthma, with the allergic form being more common. Allergic asthma develops in people who have allergies, and the same substances (called allergens) that provoke their allergy symptoms also trigger their asthma symptoms. Both the allergy and asthma symptoms are the product of an overreaction by the immune system.

Common triggers for allergic asthma include dust mites, pollen, mold, and pet dander. However, allergies can come from almost any substance. While dust mites and pollen are both airborne allergens, allergic asthma can also be trigged by an allergic reaction to something ingested, like strawberries.
Asthma attacks can be triggered by exposure to allergens.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Asthma attacks can be triggered by exposure to allergens.

In nonallergic asthma, on the other hand, the triggers that irritate the lungs and bring on asthma symptoms have nothing to do with allergies or the immune system. This type of asthma can be sparked by dry air, cold weather, exercise, smoke (including the secondhand variety), strong perfume, stressful situations, intense emotions, even laughing.

The point is, both types of asthma have triggers, and vigilant awareness of these triggers is the first step in living comfortably with asthma.

The typical symptoms of allergic and nonallergic asthma are similar. They include wheezing, tightening in the chest, dry coughing, and increased heart rate. The symptoms may occur immediately following contact with a trigger or may be delayed, and their severity varies among individual asthma sufferers.

As we said, there is no cure for asthma, but the good news is that asthma, whether mild, moderate, or severe, allergic or nonallergic, can be managed. Doctors who specialize in treating asthma can be very helpful. Every patient with asthma should see a doctor to be sure another cause of wheezing is not present and, if asthma is diagnosed, to develop a therapeutic program for managing the disorder.

In addition to working with your doctor, you can use home remedies to help control your asthma. All the medicine in the world won't help an asthma sufferer if he or she smokes. The most expensive air filter you can buy won't make a bit of difference if you leave your windows wide open. The key is to track down your triggers and, as completely as possible, eliminate them from your life.

In this article, we will describe some of the home remedies for avoiding common asthma triggers and minimizing your exposure to them. We will begin in the next section with ways to asthma-proof your home.

">For more information about asthma and the allergies that can trigger an attack, try the following links:
Beware of So-Called Cures
If you have gone from doctor to doctor in search of a remedy for your asthma, you may feel frustrated and be tempted to explore some "alternative" treatments: cytotoxicity testing, special diets, herbal preparations, body manipulation, and vitamins, to name a few. As tempting as these promised solutions may sound, there is one problem: They rarely work.

Cytotoxicity, for instance, is based on the premise that if the allergenic extract of a food to which you are allergic is mixed with a drop of your blood, certain cells in your blood will attack the food. Your blood cells will, therefore, be altered and, when viewed under a microscope, will be distorted. However, scientific research has not shown this technique to be reliable or useful for the treatment of allergies or asthma.
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.


Home Remedy Treatments for Asthma

The most important battlefront in controlling your asthma is your own house. Given all the hours we spend at home, the continual exposure to asthma triggers will eventually lead to an attack. Here are some home remedies you can try to make your home as asthma-safe as possible:

Don't pet a pet. The best approach is to not have a pet that can trigger your asthma, such as a dog, cat, or bird. The problem is not the hair of the animal but the dander, which is the dead, dry skin that flakes off. The animal licks the skin, and the dander remains in its saliva. Dander is a powerful allergen, so close contact with the pet can leave you gasping.
Fortunately, taking a few common-sense measures may allow you to co-exist with a beloved animal companion. Do not allow your pet into the bedroom ever. If the animal is in the bedroom at any time during the day, the dander will remain for hours. Leave the pet home if you are going for a car ride that would necessitate very close contact with the animal. If you do have direct contact with your pet (or any animal, for that matter), wash your hands right away. If you simply cannot keep your hands off your pet, at least keep your face away; kiss the air, and your pet will still get the idea.

In addition, try bathing your dog or cat once every other week in warm water with no soap. Bathing the animal in this way significantly reduces the amount of allergen on your pet's fur.

Smite the mite. Dust mites, or rather the feces and dead bodies of these microscopic insects, are one of the most common allergic asthma triggers. They're everywhere in your home, although they love the bedroom most because they feed on the dead skin cells we constantly shed. Banishing dust mites from your home, or at least reducing their ranks, will help ease symptoms if you have allergic asthma triggered by these little critters. Here are some tips:
  • Enclose your mattress in an airtight cover, then cover it with a washable mattress pad.

  • Wash your sheets in hot water every week, and wash your mattress pads and synthetic blankets every two weeks.

  • Use polyester or dacron pillows, not those made of kapok or feathers, and enclose them in airtight dust covers.

  • Avoid carpeting, which is difficult to clean thoroughly; stick to bare floors with washable area rugs.

  • Choose washable curtains instead of draperies.

  • Avoid dust-catchers all over the house, especially in the bed; the less clutter the better. If possible, avoid storing out-of-season clothing or bedding in the bedroom; if you can't, enclose them in heavy plastic.

  • Try not to do heavy cleaning, but if you must, use only a vacuum cleaner and damp cloth to clean; dust mops and brooms stir up the dust.

  • Wear a mask over your mouth and nose while cleaning, and leave the room when you have finished.

  • Run an air conditioner or dehumidifier in warm weather, especially in spring and fall when mites multiply. Aim to keep the humidity level in your home under 40 percent but above 25 percent.

  • Consider using an air purifier in the bedroom to keep the room free from dust particles.
Minimize mold. No matter how vigilantly you clean, mold and other forms of fungi are probably lurking somewhere in your house. Fungus is a parasite that can grow on living and nonliving organic material in several forms, including mold, mildew, and dry rot. Fungi reproduce by producing spores. The spores are the real problem, as millions and millions of them float through the air to be inhaled in every breath, touching off an allergic reaction that can contribute to asthma. To stave off the spores, take the following steps:
  • Keep your windows closed, because the mold spores can come right in through the windows even if the windows have screens.

  • Stay out of attics, basements, and other dank, musty places.

  • Wear a face mask and give your bathroom a going-over for signs of mold. The most likely spots for mold growth: dark areas, such as the backs of cabinets and under the sink.

  • Examine all closets regularly to see that molds have not set up housekeeping in unused shoes and boots.

  • On a regular basis, have a family member or friend investigate the inner workings of air conditioners, humidifiers, and vaporizers in your home where molds like to grow.

  • Periodically check houseplants for mold growth. This will help keep your plants healthy, too.
Make peace with pollen. Pollen is released when plants are blooming: trees in the spring, grass in the late spring and early summer, ragweed from mid August until the first frost. Plants that are pollinated by the wind are much more of a problem for people with asthma than are those pollinated by insects. Since it's just about impossible to escape pollen, learn how to control your exposure to the powdery allergen, instead.

Avoid cutting grass or even being outside while grass is being mowed. Keep your windows closed as much as possible (pollen can get through screens, too) and use an air conditioner to cool your home in warm weather. Room air purifiers are also available that can purify recirculated air, removing particles of all sorts that are suspended in the air and further cleansing the air by passing it through a charcoal filter. After being outside in the midst of pollen, take off your clothes and wash them if possible or run a vacuum over those that can't be washed. Wash yourself, too, and don't forget your hair.

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.
There are also changes you can make everyday in your lifestyle to avoid asthma attacks. Read on to find out more about these home remedies.


More Home Remedies for Asthma

The key to managing asthma effectively is to prevent an attack before it occurs. By applying these home remedies and making some important lifestyle changes, you may be able to avoid the triggers that can exacerbate your asthma.

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.
">Watch what you eat. The question of whether foods trigger asthma has yet to be answered. Some foods, such as nuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, chocolate, sodas, and strawberries, can result in an array of allergic responses, including asthma symptoms. Sulfites in wine can have a similar effect. An attack that's precipitated by a certain food will most likely occur within an hour of ingesting it.

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.


Natural Home Remedies for Asthma

Although there are many medical ways to help asthma sufferers breathe easier, experts recommend combining certain natural home remedies with prescription anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators. Here are some helpful remedies right from the kitchen.

Home Remedies From the Cupboard

Coffee. The caffeine in regular coffee can help prevent and control asthma attacks. Researchers have found that regular coffee drinkers have one-third fewer asthma symptoms than those who don't drink the hot stuff. The reason? Caffeine has bronchodilating effects. In fact, caffeine was one of the main anti-asthmatic drugs during the nineteenth century. Don't load up on java, though -- three cups a day will provide the maximum benefit -- and don't give coffee to children with asthma.

Onions. Onions are loaded with anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that these properties can reduce the constriction of the airways in an asthma attack. Raw onions are generally too irritating, but eating cooked onions may help to lessen asthma attacks.

Home Remedies From the Drawer

Cheesecloth. Put a fine cheesecloth over each room's heat outlet. This homemade dust filter can help by catching dust, animal dander, and pollen before it's recirculated into the air. Stick-on commercial filters are also available. And don't forget the number one most effective home aid -- scrupulous cleaning. It's not easy, but being a bit obsessive about keeping a clean house goes a long way toward helping to alleviate asthma symptoms.

Home Remedies From the Refrigerator

Chili peppers. Hot foods such as chili peppers open up airways. Experts believe this happens because peppers stimulate fluids in the mouth, throat, and lungs. The increase in fluids thins out the mucus formed during an asthma attack so it can be coughed up, making breathing easier. Capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot peppers hot, acts as an anti-inflammatory when eaten.

Eating hot foods like chile peppers may help you breathe easier.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Eating hot foods like chili peppers may help you breathe easier.

Orange juice. Vitamin C is the main antioxidant in the lining of the bronchi and bronchioles. Research discovered that people with asthma had low levels of vitamin C; eating foods that had at least 300 mg of vitamin C a day -- equivalent to about three glasses of orange juice -- cut wheezing by 30 percent. Other foods high in vitamin C include red bell pepper, papaya, broccoli, blueberries, and strawberries.

Salmon. Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids seem to help the lungs react better to irritants in people who have asthma and may even help prevent asthma in people who have never had an attack. Studies have found that kids who eat fish more than once a week have one-third the risk of getting asthma, as compared to children who don't eat fish. And researchers discovered that people who took fish oil supplements, equivalent to eating 8 ounces of mackerel a day, increased their body's ability to avoid a severe asthma attack by 50 percent.

Yogurt. Vitamin B12 can alleviate the symptoms of asthma, and it seems to be even more effective in asthma sufferers who are sensitive to sulfite. Studies have found that taking 1 to 4 micrograms (mcg) works best as protection against asthma attacks. The current RDA for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg for adults. One cup of yogurt has 1.4 mcg of the lung-loving vitamin.

Home Remedies From the Spice Rack

Peppermint extract. This is a folk remedy for a homemade vaporizer: Put 1 quart nonchlorinated water in a stainless steel, glass, or enamel pan, and put it on the stove. Add 10 drops peppermint extract or peppermint oil, and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for about 1 hour, until all the water is gone. The volatile oil will saturate the room air.

Home Remedies Do's and Don'ts

Don't overload your salt intake. Salt tends to make the airways more sensitive to triggers.

Do consider a high-quality vegan diet. Getting rid of animal products in the diet helps asthma by eliminating many food allergens (cow's milk, for example). Remember, though, that vegan diets can be deficient in protein and B12, which can be especially risky for kids and pregnant or lactating women. You might consider seeking the help of a nutritionist or dietician to help you plan a vegan diet.


Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including Reader's Digest, Prevention, Men's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. The author of four books, Gower is also a contributing editor for Health magazine.

Alice Lesch Kelly is a health writer based in Boston. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Fit Pregnancy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Eating Well, and Health. She is the co-author of three books on women's health.

Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.

Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.

David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.

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.