Asthma Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors: 10 Amazing Natural Tips to Breathe Easy


chronic inflammatory disease involving our lungs’ airways, asthma is characterized by recurring and variable symptoms, bronchospasm and reversible airway obstruction. Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and tightness of chest are the common symptoms of asthma. These symptoms are episodic which may occur a few times in a week or a few times a day. In some, symptoms may worsen with exercise or during the night. Both environmental and genetic factors are responsible for asthma. These include environmental allergens, air pollution, medicines like beta blockers, aspirin etc. [1]

Symptoms of Asthma

  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Dyspnea or shortness of breath
  • Disturbed sleep resulting from wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing
  • Wheezing and coughing worsened by cold and flu viruses [2]

Indication That Symptoms Have Worsened

  • Episodes of coughing, wheezing etc. are more frequent and are bothering you
  • Increase in breathing difficulties which can be measured with the device peak flow meter
  • Frequently you need an inhaler for quick relief [3]

Situations That May Flare Up Asthma Symptoms

  • Asthma induced by allergy: Substances in the air like spores of molds, pet dander, pollen, cockroach waste etc. can trigger asthma.
  • Asthma induced by exercise: When the air is dry and cold this condition worsens
  • Occupational asthma: Irritants at your workplace like dust, gases or chemical fumes may trigger this type of asthma [4]

You Need to Contact a Doctor in the Following Conditions

1. If you experience symptoms of asthma: When symptoms of asthma especially wheezing and coughing are quite frequent or stay for many days you need to visit a doctor as early intervention can keep severe lung damage at bay.
2. When your asthma symptoms worsen: You need to get in touch with your physician if your medicines are not providing relief and you have to frequently use your quick-relief inhaler.
3. While monitoring your asthma post diagnosis: When you know you have asthma, you need to monitor along with your doctor to keep it under control and reduce the risk of life-threatening asthma attack.
4. For evaluation of your ongoing treatment: As asthma tends to change with time you need to keep consulting your physician to make required changes in your course of treatment.
5. Identify symptoms requiring emergency treatment: The symptoms that require emergency medical intervention include quick worsening of wheezing or shortness of breath; minimum physical activity initiating shortness of breath; and quick-relief inhaler giving no relief. [5]

Causes of Asthma

Two major causes of asthma are:

1. Constriction of airways

Muscles around the airways tighten when an asthma trigger comes in contact with the airways. This results in further narrowing of the air passages and chest tightening. If mucus gets stuck in the already contracted airways your breathing trouble enhances.

2. Inflammation

Swelling or inflammation of airways causes narrowing of the air passages and increases sensitivity to asthma triggers and irritants. This results in shortness of breath.[6]

Triggers of Asthma

  • To manage asthma properly you need to understand your triggers. These include:
  • Smoke
  • Pollen
  • Cockroaches and dust mites
  • Mold
  • Common cold or other respiratory infection
  • Weather changes especially cold weather
  • Strong emotions or stress
  • Dander and pet hair
  • Exercise or any other physical activity
  • Preservatives added to food
  • Allergic reactions to sulfites or other foods
  • Certain medicines
  • Acid reflux or heartburn [7]

Risk Factors of Asthma

The following are some major risks associated with Asthma:

1. Age and Gender

Children tend to suffer more from asthma than adults. Boys are more at risk than girls. In the case of adult-onset asthma men and women are at equal risks.

2. Family History

In case you have an asthmatic parent then your chances of developing it also increases.

3. Allergies

If you are sensitive to certain allergens like mold, chemicals, dust, pollen etc. then you are more prone to getting an asthma attack.

4. Obesity

Overweight adults and children are at bigger risk of asthma. Experts suggest that this could be related to low-grade inflammation that stems from excessive weight.

5. Smoking

The risk of asthma is high for smokers as cigarette smoke can irritate your airways. Passive smokers or those whose mothers smoked when they were pregnant are also at the risk.

6. Viral Infections of the Respiratory Tract

Wheezing may be seen in children and infants suffering from respiratory infections. Chronic asthma also develops in some children who suffer from chronic viral infection of the respiratory tract.

7. Air Pollution

If you are exposed to air pollution constantly your chances of developing asthma are higher.

8. Improper Posture

Improper posture may lead to compression of lungs that may trigger asthma symptoms.

9. Being Indoors for Long

Spending too much time indoors in a clean and hygienic environment can reduce your immunity. Moreover, allergens present indoors like dust mite, pet hair, mold spores etc. can also trigger asthma.

10. Vaccines and Antibiotics

Studies have suggested that antibiotics and vaccines can alter the proper functioning of our immune system that tends to increase allergic reactions to food thereby leading to asthma symptoms. The white blood cells or lymphocytes in reaction to these might release some chemicals resulting in allergic reactions and constriction of airways. [8]

Conventional Therapy for Asthma

Two types of medicinal drugs are primarily used to treat asthma. These include:

1. Medicines for Providing Immediate or Quick Relief

These are beta 2 agonists which include epinephrine, levalbuterol, albuterol, and metaproterenol. To promote rapid transportation to the lungs these are available as mist or powder for inhalation through the mouth. However, at times they can be taken as pills.

2. Medications for Long Term Asthma Control

Asthmatics may be prescribed the following drugs:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids: These are most effective but also have side effects like thrush, osteoporosis or cataract when used for long.
  • Immunomodulators like omalizumab which are administered via injection one or two times in a month. These work by lowering a person’s response to triggers of asthma like dust mites or pollen.
  • Oral medication theophylline to open up the airways.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines like cromolyn which is taken via a nebulizer.
  • Leukotriene modifiers: These work against inflammation reaction in our airways.
  • Long-acting beta2 agonists for inhalation: This help in opening of airways and may be prescribed along with corticosteroids.

Natural Therapies for Symptoms of Asthma Include

1. Dietary Management of Asthma

  • Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet: This means completely abstaining from processed foods and including anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger, turmeric, onion, curry leaves, garlic, cinnamon, basil, cloves etc in the diet. You can check your sensitivity toward these herbs by trying a little bit first and then moving on to normal food amounts if there is no adverse reaction in the next two hours. 90 to 95% of carbohydrates in your diet should come from complex carbohydrates: These are present in unprocessed and whole foods like lentils, whole grains, peas, vegetables, and beans. Simple carbohydrates contribute to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and inflammation that may trigger asthma.
  • Eat more organic foods: This would cut down on chemical toxins that can enter our system. This could possibly help keep asthma triggers at bay.
  • Enhance the fiber content of your diet: This can be attained by increasing intake of vegetables and fruits as well as by adding other fiber-rich foods like flaxseed etc. to your diet.
  • Increase your water intake: To reduce risk of inflammation and dehydration, drink one to two liters of water a day. Soft drinks, black tea and coffee should be avoided.
  • Increase consumption of fish and poultry that is skinless and reduce red meat intake: Eat more wild caught fish like cod, tuna, salmon and haddock as these are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. You can avoid the skin of both poultry and fish as it may be full of hormones, antibiotics and fat. All these may increase inflammation. If any of the fish causes allergic reaction, then you can avoid it. [9]

2. Identify and Avoid Your Asthma Triggers

Some of the known triggers that you need to avoid include allergens like fur of animals, dust, pollens, molds, cockroaches; medications like NSAIDs and nonselective beta blockers; chemical preservatives; irritants like cigarette smoke, chemicals present in air, environmental dust etc.; dry or cold air; upper respiratory tract infections and stress, heartburn etc.

Find out your own personal triggers: Maintain a record of what you eat and how your body reacts to it to narrow down your own personal triggers. Do it for at least 14 days and then avoid those food triggers. Food allergens that you need to avoid: In a study, it was seen that asthma in children was related to sensitivity to certain food items in 75% of cases. Sensitivities to casein, a milk protein, and gluten, a protein present in wheat products, are quite common. Severity and frequency of asthma attacks can be curbed by removing these two from your diet. Chocolate, eggs, peanuts and citrus fruits may also trigger asthma. [10]

3. Supplements That May Ease Asthma Symptoms

  • Selenium: Found in meats, seafood, and organ meats, selenium is needed by the body as part of its inflammation controlling chemical reactions. Total supplemental intake should not exceed 200 mcg a day.
  • Vitamin C supplement: Studies have shown that supplemental vitamin C can bring improvement in asthma. 500 mg a day can be taken daily in case you don’t have any kidney problems.
  • Vitamin B6: it is good for the immune system and lowers inflammation. Potatoes, turkey, salmon, avocados, chicken, bananas and spinach have it in the most easily absorbable form.
  • Vitamin B12: This can be taken by adolescents and adults in the dose of 2.4 mg a day. Children in the age of 1 to 8 years should take 0.9 to 1.2 mg a day and 1.8 mg daily is the dose for children between 9 to 13 years of age. [11]

4. Controlling Asthma Through Chiropractic Adjustments

Forward head posture is a condition which may lead to asthma as when our head shifts in front of the entire body the nerves present in the upper back and lower neck tend to get compressed and affect the proper functioning of our lungs. A chiropractic physician can help make chiropractic adjustments to better your posture. By realigning the spine, extra pressure is relieved from the nerves reaching our lungs. [12]

5. Easing Symptoms With Essential Oils

Certain essential oils can help ease wheezing, coughing and breathing issues faced by asthmatics. Frankincense essential oil can work on inflammation and reduce swelling of lymph nodes. The lavender essential oil may work on mood issues and anxiety. [13]

6. Stress Management

Studies have shown that reducing stress can help lower the severity of asthma. Natural modes of relieving stress like deep breathing, art therapies, massage, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can benefit asthmatics. These may reduce their dependence on asthma medications and lower chances of repeat attacks. [14]

7. Practice Lung Strengthening Exercises

These may help increase the total volume of your lungs and enhance your breathing capacity. Your feeling of shortness of breath during an attack of asthma can also be lowered by practicing these exercises. These include:

  • Daily blow a balloon for ten minutes.
  • Using one deep breath blow a candle from a distance of one meter. Once you can do it move the candle far away and repeat.
  • Swim daily for at least half an hour.
  • Cycling and brisk walking are also good. [15]

8. Yoga Asana for Easing Asthma

Various yoga poses involve deep breathing and postures that help in the expansion of the lungs and as a result, benefit the asthmatics. Some of the yoga poses suitable for asthmatics include:

  • Sit crossed legs with back straight and hands placed on your knees and breathe deeply in and out for five times. Do it for ten minutes daily.
  • Practice fish pose as this will help you fill your lungs completely with air.
  • Anulom vilom breathing: Sit in lotus pose and place the thumb of your right hand on right nostril and breathe in through your left nostril. Hold for few seconds. Now for exhaling remove your thumb from right nostril and place your ring and middle fingers on the left nostril. Exhale through the right nostril. Now inhale through right and repeat. Complete ten rounds to enhance your lung functioning.
  • Practice the mountain pose to expand your lungs and strengthen and tone the muscles of your abdomen, which could ease breathing. [16]