Difficult breathing, coughing, wheezing, tight chest. Attacks of multiple symptoms can occur suddenly or gradually. Sometimes there is coughing with thick, persistent sputum that may be clear or yellow. There is a feeling of suffocation.
Asthma is a lung disease that results in blockage of the airways. During an asthma attack, the muscles around the bronchi (which are the small passageways of the lungs) tighten and narrow, making it difficult for air to leave the lungs. The chronic inflammation and excessive sensitivity of the bronchi produce those constricting spasms. The bronchial tubes swell and become plugged with mucous. An attack, often occurring at night, usually begins as a nonproductive cough and wheezing, which is often followed by difficult breathing and a tight chest. After a few hours it subsides. But what causes an attack to come on? Only certain people have asthma, and those that do may have an attack triggered by an allergen or other irritant, such as chemicals, drugs, dust mites, feathers, food additives, pollutants, fumes, mold, animal dander, tobacco smoke, etc. But other things can also do it: anxiety, fear, laughing, stress, low blood sugar, adrenal disorders, temperature changes, extremes of dryness or humidity, or respiratory infections. About 80% have an allergic disorder, but the others do not. The experts warn that ever-increasing amounts of pollutants will cause the number of asthmatics to increase. Many workers must continually live with such things as sulfites, urethane, polyurethane, epoxy resins, dry cleaning chemicals, and many other chemicals common to industry. In the last decade alone, the number of asthmatics in America has increased by one third! Children under 16 and adults over 65 suffer the most from it. Asthmatics are frequently very sensitive to foods containing sulfite additives: potassium metabisulfite, sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, sodium bisulfite, etc. Restaurants use them, to prevent discoloration in salads and other foods. Sulfites are also added to many other foods by the food industry. Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and cigarette smoke are also known to precipitate asthma attacks. Fumes and strong odors, such as turpentine, paints, gasoline, perfumes, etc., disturb many asthmatics.
There are two types of asthma: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic asthma usually begins in childhood, is seasonal, and is usually caused by a definite number of substances which can more easily be identified. Asthma is the leading cause of disease and disability in the 2-17 age group. Intrinsic asthma is the more severe, and generally begins after 30 years of age. Attacks can occur at any time, and the causes are much more difficult to identify. About half of asthmatics are diagnosed between 2 and 17, another third after 30. The other one sixth does not fit either the intrinsic or extrinsic category. For example, some may initiate the problem in their 20s and others may, after their 30s, develop reactions to only one or two seasonal allergens. But asthma can be difficult to diagnose, for its symptoms are similar to those of bronchitis, emphysema, and lung infections. Over a period of time, the attacks can become more frequent, so it is best for the person with asthma to learn every possible way to lessen the problem. Here are several suggestions:
TREATMENT DURING THE ATTACK:
• Hot fomentations to the back of the neck, thorax, and front of the chest are helpful, along with a hot footbath. Keep the head cool by sponging with cool water or use a fan.
• Pouring cold water on the back of the neck is useful. As the person bends over, the water is poured on the back of the neck from a container holding about a gallon of water. From about 24 inches above the neck, pour it for about 30-90 seconds. Do this 3 times a day during the critical phase.
• A vaporizer, which blows cold, moist air is helpful during an attack. Menthol or eucalyptus oil may be added to the water.
• After blending a clove of garlic in a cup of water, drink it. This may be vomited back out, loosening the phlegm. If vomited, give another cup. The garlic really helps.
• Some take a cup of hot water, catnip tea, or mullein tea each hour.
• At the first sign of an asthmatic attack, sit up straight in a chair for the first 10 minutes. Inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips. This helps press open the bronchial tubes.
• Then lie on your stomach, with your head and chest over the edge of the bed. Cough gently for 2-3 minutes, to bring up the sputum. (But, during an attack, some cannot tolerate this position; instead, they lie face down on the bed with 2-3 pillows under their hips and a towel under their face.)
• A neutral bath (94o-98o F.) is quieting to the nerves and helps relax them.
• Lobelia is an herb that, when sipped slowly, relaxes the nerves and tends to stop the spasm. (If one drinks more quickly, it has a different effect, and induces vomiting.)
• Mullein oil is a worthwhile remedy for bronchial congestion. The oil stops coughs because it unclogs bronchial tubes. When taken with water or fruit juice, the effect is even more rapid.
• Other useful herb teas include juniper berries, echinacea, and, of course, that old standby, slippery elm bark.
TREATMENT DURING THE REST OF THE TIME:
• Eat a nourishing diet. Include garlic and onions. Eat lightly.
• Avoid processed and junk food, and do not use nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine. Do not use chocolate, fish, eggs, and other common allergenic foods. Avoid foods containing additives.
• Avoid bananas and melons, especially if you are also sensitive to ragweed.
• Do not use milk products. You may be allergic to wheat products. Do not eat ice cream or other cold liquids. Cold can shock the bronchial tubes into a spasm.
• Research has revealed that a fat-free diet can help reduce asthma attacks.
• Be sure and drink enough water. This vital fluid is greatly needed to keep your lungs and bronchi free of thickened phlegm.
• Strictly adhere to the above diet. • Learn to play a wind instrument, harmonica, or sing. Practice deep breathing when you are out-of-doors. Have regular physical exercise. Hiking, swimming, etc. are good. You need to build up your lung capacity and utilization. This will strengthen your entire respiratory tract. A person at rest uses only 10% of his lung capacity; hard work increases it to about 50%.
• Exhale forcefully through a small drinking straw into a large bottle of water. This forces the bronchial tubes to expand somewhat and become larger.
• Some asthmatics have problems when they breathe too deeply. One way to minimize exercise-induced asthma is to wear a mask that retains heat and moisture and limits the effects of cold, dry air.
• Spend a few minutes each day practicing standing tall, expanding your chest, and breathing deeply. Devise simple exercises (on the floor, against walls, etc.) which help you do this.
• Move out to the country where the air is purer.
• Practice breathing through your nose rather than your mouth.
• Go on a juice fast, 3 days each month, of distilled water and lemon juice, to help clean out the body of toxins and mucous.
• Reduce stress. Avoid worry and fear.
• Get a good vacuum cleaner and get rid of the dust and dust mites in your bed, cushions, rugs, and floor. Avoid goose feathers (pillows and down coats). Dead cockroaches are also known to produce a dust which can bring on an attack. House plants may contain mold spores. Keep the bathroom clean of mold, also under the sinks.
• Eliminate things from the house which harbor dust: carpets, venetian blinds, draperies, etc. Washable cotton curtains are all right. Avoid the use of electric fans; they stir up dust.
• Practice "sleep breathing." This is done by breathing slower and deeper than normal, with a three second pause at the top of the inspiration and at the end of the expiration.