Asthma symptoms are a collection of symptoms you have if you’re an asthma sufferer. Asthma is a chronic (long-term) condition that affects the airways in your lungs (1). The condition will make you wheeze, and you’ll find it hard to breathe.
Your airways are tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, these airways sometimes become inflamed and narrowed.
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Asthma may start at any age, but you often get it for the first time during your childhood years. You’ll wheeze, cough, or feel a tightness in your chest. It was estimated in a 2017 survey that approximately 7.9% of people in the United States had asthma.
Your asthma symptoms can happen every day or only once in a while and can range from mild to severe. When your symptoms get worse and severe for a short period of time, you’re said to be having an asthma attack or asthma exacerbation. Your attacks can start suddenly and range from mild to life-threatening.
These symptoms vary from person to person. The main signs and symptoms you may have include:
- Tightness or pain in your chest.
- A whistling or wheezing sound when you’re breathing out.
- Coughing attacks that are made worse if you have a respiratory virus, such as the flu or a cold.
- Increased mucus production.
- Breathlessness or shortness of breath leading to your difficulty sleeping.
During the time you’re experiencing these symptoms, your airways will swell. The muscles around your airways will tighten, and it will become difficult for air to move in and out of your lungs.
There are many types of asthma, and several factors can set off or worsen your asthma symptoms or trigger an acute attack. These factors are called asthma triggers.
Asthma symptom triggers
The following are situations, illnesses, or substances which can trigger your asthma symptoms. They include:
Cold air – If you have asthma, cold air can make your symptoms worse. Your symptoms may get worse as the temperature dips. Going outside in cold weather makes breathing become a chore for you. Also, when you exercise in the cold while breathing in cold air, it can bring on symptoms such as coughing and wheezing faster.
Heartburn – if you have asthma, severe heartburn can trigger an acute asthma attack (2).
Smoking tobacco – even without being a smoker, asthma can cause damage to your lungs. And if you smoke, you are more likely to get asthma.
Smoking is one of the factors that can trigger your asthma. Also, you stand the risk of developing other tobacco-related lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
If you smoke, this can also make your asthma symptoms more severe than if you didn’t smoke (3). If you smoke with asthma, it may make symptoms like coughing and wheezing worse.
Smoking while pregnant may increase the risk of wheezing in your new baby when he/she is born. Your baby may also have worse lung function.
So, if you’re pregnant and you have asthma and you’re a smoker, the most important step you can take to protect your lungs and those of your unborn child is to quit.
Exercise – you may experience wheezing and breathing difficulties during or after periods of physical activity or exercise. This is known as exercise-induced asthma.
Allergens or airborne substances – exposure to allergens or irritants such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, cockroach waste, and fumes from household cleaners and paints.
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Industrial irritants – irritants such as chemicals, industrial gases or dust can trigger your asthma symptoms.
Air pollution – smoke pollution from traffic and other sources outdoors.
Respiratory Infections – bacterial or viral infections such as the common cold, sinusitis and other respiratory infections.
Medication – certain medications, including beta-blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
Emotional stress – stress and strong emotions.
Pregnancy – if you’re pregnant, you may experience an aggravation of asthma symptoms during your pregnancy (3).
Obesity – you may have a higher level of asthma symptoms if you’re obese.
Genetic – there’s evidence that you may have asthma if it runs in your family.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – this is a condition in which acids from your stomach backs up into your throat
Sulfites and preservatives – these are added to some types of foods and beverages, including dried fruit, processed potatoes, shrimp, beer, and wine.
Signs you’re having an asthma attack
Your attack may be mild or it may become dangerous very quickly. At this time, your airways narrow due to inflammation and swelling. The muscles around your airways tighten and your body produces extra mucus.
When this happens, the air passing through your bronchial tubes is restricted, making it difficult for you to breathe properly.
Signs of an asthma attack include (4):
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing that won’t stop
- Wheezing on exhalation (when breathing out)
- Rapid breathing
- Pale and sweaty face.
It’s important that you treat your symptoms quickly to help prevent your asthma attack from getting worse. You should remain calm, stand upright, and take a puff from any rescue medication prescribed by your provider.
If your breathing doesn’t get better after several minutes of using your rescue inhaler, or if you start feeling drowsy, you should seek emergency help immediately. If you’re alone, cal 911.
Do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Continue to take puffs on your inhaler until help arrives.
Prevention of asthma symptoms
One of the important ways to prevent your asthma attacks is to avoid all known irritants. You should remove or reduce known triggers from your home.
Depending on what your specific triggers are, you should minimize your triggers. The following are ways that you may do so.
- Keep your windows closed and stay inside if the outside air quality is poor.
- Your house should be kept clean to reduce dust and mold.
- If you have pets, bathe them weekly and keep them out of your bedroom.
- Avoid burning wood in your stove or the fireplace in your home.
- If you smoke, you should quit. You should also avoid secondhand smoke.
- You should always take your scheduled asthma medications as prescribed by your doctor. Do that, even if you’re feeling well and haven’t had an attack for a while.
- Getting an annual flu vaccine and a pneumonia vaccine can help prevent asthma flare-ups caused by viruses.
- Make sure that you’re using your inhaler properly. You’ll not get the full benefits of your inhaler if you’re not using it the right way. If you’re not sure about how to use your inhaler, you should visit your pharmacy where the inhaler was dispensed. You may also go to your doctor. They should show you the correct way to self administer your inhaler.
- Keep your appointments with your doctor. Regular appointments with your doctor will help them evaluate your asthma and change your treatment if needed.
Home remedies for your asthma symptoms
With all the new findings on alternative medicine and natural remedies, you may wonder if there’s a natural cure for asthma. Maybe you believe, just like some others, that there are home remedies that can help treat your asthma.
Many things have been given credit for being natural asthma remedies. However, because there have been limited research studies on alternative treatments for asthma, it’s not known how safe and effective they are.
The fact is that at this time, there’s really no scientific research to show that there is a “cure” for asthma or home remedies that will treat your asthma. This is according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
It is therefore highly advisable for you to avoid any home remedies that claim to be a “cure” for asthma without consulting your doctor.
Although they may not “cure” asthma, some natural therapies may help you to manage your asthma symptoms. For instance, you may have an asthma attack if you have a negative response to emotional stress.
You can use natural relaxation remedies like guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, deep abdominal breathing to help relieve your stress.
There are also suggestions that diet plays a role in easing your asthma symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as mackerel, cod, and salmon cod let your body produce more of the substances that help relieve inflammation. However, whether these will help your asthma is still unproven.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma yet, and it’s highly advisable for you to avoid any treatment or product that claims to be a ‘cure’ for asthma without consulting your doctor.
Because there have been limited research studies done on alternative treatments for asthma, it is still not known how safe and effective they are. The following are natural remedies that have been studied regarding relieving asthma symptoms:
Can the foods you eat affect your asthma symptoms? If you have a food allergy, you should avoid those foods that trigger an allergy attack.
That may also help with easing some of your asthma symptoms. There’s no asthma diet that you can use to eliminate your asthma symptoms.
However, there are some steps that you can take that may help you:
- Avoid eating allergy-triggering foods. Allergic food reactions can cause asthma symptoms.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. These are a good source of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, and beta carotene. The antioxidants may help reduce your lung swelling and irritation or inflammation.
- Take in vitamin D. If you have more severe asthma symptoms, you may have low levels of vitamin D in your blood. You should, therefore, consume more eggs, milk, and fish such as salmon. They all contain vitamin D. You may also spend a few minutes outdoors in the sun to increase your vitamin D levels.
- You should eat to maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, this can worsen your asthma. Losing just a little weight can help improve your asthma symptoms. If you learn how to eat right, you will be able to maintain a healthy weight over a long term period.
- Avoid foods that contain sulfites, because they may trigger your asthma symptoms. Sulfites are used as preservatives in wine, pickles, dried fruits, fresh and frozen shrimp, etc.
- Eating less salt may help your asthma symptoms, but more research needs to be done.
- You should eat foods that are rich in oils found in cold-water fish and some nuts and seeds (omega-3 fatty acids). This may help reduce your asthma symptoms. But again, more research is needed to verify this claim.
Herbs and natural dietary supplements
You may use plants, herbs, and supplements to manage your asthma symptoms, especially using Chinese herbs. Since there’s no proof they help with asthma symptoms, it is not recommended you take them to relieve your symptoms without your doctor’s knowledge.
Studies have also been done with omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and antioxidant supplements such as vitamin A and vitamins C, D, and E for asthma symptoms. There isn’t enough evidence to recommend these natural therapies to you for your asthma attacks.
This is a form of alternative medicine and a key component of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting very thin metal needles into the skin at precise points on your body. There are claims by some people that acupuncture eases their asthma symptoms, but there’s no proof backed by research to show that acupuncture is an acceptable treatment for your asthma.
Some people with asthma have found that breathing exercises used in yoga helped them control asthma through controlled breathing. This type of breathing may relieve your stress, which is a common asthma trigger.
Although you need more studies to confirm its benefit, you may be able to manage your asthma symptoms by learning to control your heart rate.
Caffeinated tea or coffee
The caffeine in black or green tea and coffee may help to manage your asthma symptoms. The caffeine in them works similarly to the popular asthma medication Theophylline, which opens up your airways when you take them.
A study done in 2010 found that caffeine may slightly improve your breathing function for up to 4 hours. However, there haven’t been further studies since then to make a definite statement, and show evidence that caffeine can improve your asthma symptoms.
In 2014, a study was done which indicated that regular breathing training may help improve your asthma symptoms. Breathing exercises may also help lower your need for rescue medications.
The exercises mentioned in the study aim to reduce your hyperventilation. They include:
- Slow breathing
- Breathing through your nose
- A controlled holding of breath
With the preliminary studies completed, more research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of breathing exercises for your asthma symptoms. You should note that this is not a technique you should use during an attack.
Lavender essential oil
Lavender is another essential oil that has received attention and shows some promise. A 2014 study found that if you inhale a diffused lavender essential oil, it may reduce your inflammation from allergies, therefore helping with your asthma symptoms.
However, as with other alternative treatments, you should not use lavender oil in an emergency. You’ll need to rely on more studies done in the future so that you can verify its usefulness in managing your asthma.
Eucalyptus essential oil
Another 2016 study found that the main element found in eucalyptus oil called 1.8-cineole was able to reduce airway inflammation in mice. The study suggested that if you inhale the vapors from eucalyptus essential oil, it may also help you if you have asthma symptoms.
Despite the positive recommendations of eucalyptus oil, another study’s findings showed that essential oils, including eucalyptus, release potentially dangerous chemicals. You’ll need more evidence to know if these substances will make your asthma symptoms better or worse.
The FDA doesn’t monitor essential oils and hasn’t approved its use to manage or treat your asthma. This means that the purity, safety, and quality of these oils haven’t been validated yet.
For this reason, you should use caution when trying essential oils. In conclusion, you should never use essential oil if you’re having an asthma attack.
What’s your takeaway?
More research studies need to be done to have enough evidence and proof to determine what home remedies you may use for your asthma symptoms. You shouldn’t use any natural dietary supplement for treating your asthma symptoms without checking first with your doctor.
Certain natural herbal products may actually trigger your asthma attack if you’re allergic to that specific plant. This is true with a natural product such as bee pollen.
Also, you should never stop using your asthma drugs without notifying your doctor. If you’re not certain about the claims on a natural dietary supplement product label about curing asthma, call your doctor before taking it.
Your doctor should be able to let you know if the product has any health benefits for your asthma or not. If you don’t follow your doctor’s plan of treatment for your asthma, the results can be serious, and even life-threatening.
The essential oils listed in this article are available for purchase online.