Asthma, it’s more than just being a little short of breath. Breath gets shorter and it becomes harder to get air in. You have to work more to get a breath and the more you try seemingly the worse it gets. Not being able to breathe properly is incredibly stressful, not to mention dangerous, particularly when it can come at any time for no apparent reason. Asthma can be a cage that some people live in altering their lives and their decisions. So what is it?
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the airways that occurs sporadically based on a range of known and unknown triggers. In an asthma attack the airways become hyper-responsive meaning they secret too much mucus. This causes the airways to swell making it harder to breathe. The muscle walls of the airways also contract making them narrower. Attacks can range from difficulty breathing to the airways being completely obstructed and not being able to breathe at all.
What are the symptoms?
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Increased mucous production
Symptoms may be worse at night or aggravated by cold air, exercise or exposure to allergens.
What are the causes of Asthma?
In most cases asthma is considered to be a combination of genetic and environmental issues. A person’s genetic makeup can make them susceptible to this condition leaving them more likely to be aggravated by environmental factors such as temperature, dust, pollens, pollution and smoke. Poor immunity or frequent exposure to respiratory infections can also increase the frequency and severity of attacks.
How is Asthma diagnosed?
A range of different tests and procedures may be used including:
- Physical examination – nose throat and airway examination, checking breathing with a stethoscope and checking for other allergic type reactions such as hives and eczema.
- Spirometry is used to measure lung function and the speed and quantity of air that can be expired from the lungs. – this is not suitable for children under 5years.
- Challenge test – If your spirometry test is within normal range your doctor may aim to produce a response by getting you to inhale substances that will irritate the airway.
- Exercise test in the case of potential exercise related asthma.
- Lung function test in children under 5 years
Any good diagnostic approach looks to rule out other potential issues that may contribute to or be similar to the disease being investigated. In this case these may include:
- CT scan
- Blood tests
- Phlegm assessment to look for infection
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux assessment
What are the conventional treatments?
Asthma management is aimed at reducing the frequency and severity of attacks, improve or maintain lung function and prevent health decline. Methods to achieve this include:
- Reliever medications eg: Salbutamol or Terbutaline and Ipratropium Bromide.
- Symptom controllers: Examples include Salmeterol and Eformoterol.
- Preventer medications eg inhaled corticosteroids
How can I manage Asthma?
There are lots of different factors that can be considered potential contributors to the frequency and severity of attacks. A long term strategic approach is an important consideration to help you to be able to live a healthy and happy life.
Some options include:
- Action plan – fill in an asthma action plan with your professional health provider.
- Avoiding triggers – If you know the things that cause attacks then look at ways you can either eliminate or reduce them.
- Diet – simple things like reducing sugar, dairy and other mucous producing foods. A low mucogenic diet will reduce mucous production in the body reducing the risk of attacks.
- Breath training such as the Buteyko method or the Papworth method can help train your breathing and strengthen your lungs.
What does the research say about acupuncture and asthma?
One study (1) of 306 participants found acupuncture treatment in conjunction with conventional treatment resulted in far superior results than just conventional treatment alone. It was also found medication was able to be reduced when used in conjunction with acupuncture.
A systematic review (2) of randomised control trials found that in human subjects the use of acupuncture was as effective in acute management as salbutamol inhalant medication. The study also found acupuncture was shown to reduce secretion of mucous and inflammatory antibodies suggesting a long term benefit to the use of acupuncture in the management of asthma
1. Acupuncture in patients suffering from allergic asthma. Thomas Reinhold, Benno Brinkhaus, Stefan N Willich, Claudia Witt. Jnl Altern Complement Med 2014 Mar;20(3):169-77.
2. Acupuncture treatment for patients with asthma.
Zogopoulos P, Sagris K, Gkorgkolis V, Kollias S, Pankos A, Vretakos G, Rologis D