Asthma Awareness Month ~ MAY 2011 @ Natasha Turner, N.D.

Asthma Awareness Month

MAY 2011

Asthma is a common condition that’s anything but simple. Symptoms vary widely from person to person and from situation to situation.

Still, there’s a lot that’s known about asthma, and you’ll find much of it here. Every year, about 500 Canadians die from asthma. Most of these deaths, however, could have been prevented with proper education and management.

The goal of this section is to provide you with the latest knowledge. After all, the more you know about asthma, the better you can control it.

In What is Asthma, you’ll learn that asthma is a chronic condition characterized by some degree of inflammation that’s present in the air passages of the lungs of a person with asthma.

In How to Tell You Have Asthma, you’ll read about how doctors make the diagnosis of asthma and the associated conditions; rhinitis, allergies, and acid reflux.

In Who Gets Asthma, you’ll learn about the incidence of asthma among Canadians as well as known risk factors for the condition.

In Common Asthma Triggers, you’ll discover what triggers are and why people with asthma should try their best to avoid them.

In What to Expect if You Have Asthma, once diagnosed with asthma you’ll need to discuss peak flow, symptom monitoring, and action plans with your doctor.

In What to Do if Your Asthma Worsens, you’ll learn to recognize worsening asthma signs and symptoms as well as what actions to take and when to go to the hospital.

With all the information you’ll find here – no matter what kind of symptoms you experience, no matter how long you’ve had asthma – you’ll soon be able to enjoy life to the fullest.


How to Tell if You Have Asthma

Have you, or someone you know, been diagnosed with asthma? If so, you probably have lots of questions.

You may wonder, for example, just what asthma is. The medical definition of asthma is simple, but the condition itself is quite complex.

Doctors define asthma as a “chronic inflammatory disease of the airway” that causes the following symptoms:

  • Chronic (regular) cough.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest

If you suspect you might have asthma, your doctor will evaluate your medical history and your family’s and also perform lung-function tests. Additionally, he or she may prescribe medications that can conclusively determine whether or not you have asthma.

Being Diagnosed – Knowing for Sure if You’ve Got Asthma
Symptoms of asthma come and go; you may experience some of them and yet not know for certain whether you’ve got asthma or not. For example, you might experience trouble breathing with exercise or get more ‘chest’ infections than other people do.

Persistent cough is a common sign of lung disease. Coughing is a major feature of asthma, especially in children. If your infant or child coughs to the point of vomiting, discuss the possibility of asthma with your doctor. There are reasons other than asthma for a long-term cough, like whooping cough and postnasal drip.

Only a doctor can diagnose asthma. Conditions such as pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have to be ruled out before your doctor can be certain that you have asthma.

It is important to talk to your doctor about all of your concerns and to ask lots of questions. Something that you may not think is relevant may be useful in pinpointing the problem. Use the checklist found at the end of the booklet called ‘Diagnosis’ to help you prepare for a discussion with your doctor.

Depending on your circumstances, your doctor will evaluate some or all of the following:

  • Your medical history
  • Your family history
  • What your symptoms are, how frequently they occur and whether they improve with medication
  • Whether you have allergies
  • What your individual triggers are (that is, what things or situations tend to lead to your experiencing asthma symptoms)
  • Your lung function, using tests like peak flow monitoring and spirometry to determine how quickly you can expel air

You are more likely to have asthma if you have a parent or close relative with allergies and/or asthma. Your chance of having asthma is also increased if you have a history of:

  • Wheezing, even though you did not have a cold
  • Inflammation in the nose, called allergic rhinitis
  • Eczema, an allergic skin condition

Associated Conditions

Asthma & Allergies
Many people with asthma also have allergies, and your doctor may refer you to an allergist if you are experiencing asthma symptoms. However, just as not everyone who has allergies develops asthma, not everyone who has asthma has allergies. Researchers are still trying to determine the exact relationship between the two.

No one is born with an allergy, but you can have a genetic tendency to develop one. If both your parents have allergies, you will have a 75% chance of also developing them.

Asthma and allergies are related, but they are not the same thing. An allergy is a reaction to a substance that is usually harmless. These substances (allergens) can be inhaled, injected, swallowed, or touched. Being exposed to an allergen may cause irritation and swelling in specific areas of the body, such as the nose, eyes, lungs, and skin. Allergens like pollen, mould, animal dander and dust mites can make asthma symptoms worse by increasing the inflammation in the airways and making them more sensitive. The best way to find out if you are allergic to something is to have an allergy assessment done.

Rhinitis & Sinusitis
Rhinitis and sinusitis are different but related conditions, that often make asthma symptoms worse.

Rhinitis is when the lining of the nose becomes inflamed and it usually occurs after exposure to an aeroallergen such ragweed. Sinusitis is when the lining of the sinus cavities become inflamed and infected and this generally happens after a viral, bacterial or fungal infection.

If you have asthma and also develop rhinitis or sinusitis, your doctor may recommend nasal corticosteroid sprays or other treatments in addition to your regular asthma medication. By managing your sinusitis or rhinitis, your asthma will be better controlled.

To find out more about the differences between sinusitis, rhinitis, the common cold and the flu, as well as detailed prevention and treatment options, see our ‘Comparison Chart’.

Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is short form for gastro esophageal reflux disease or acid reflux.

In most people, GERD is simply ordinary heartburn. Acid reflux can cause asthma symptoms, particularly coughing, when stomach acid travels up the esophagus and irritates the airways of the lungs.

If you do not respond to conventional asthma treatments, or if your asthma symptoms appear to be associated with heartburn, ask your doctor to have you checked for acid reflux.

Talk to Your Doctor

As you have learned, asthma affects different people in different ways, and its symptoms can vary over time. That’s why it’s so important to work closely with your doctor or an asthma educator to determine the medications and management strategies that are right for you.

Chatelaine Magazine writes:

‘Six supplements to help you beat allergy season’

If the arrival of spring fills you with dread, you probably suffer from seasonal allergies. Try these supplements to boost your immune system and reduce your reliance on over-the-counter medications.

For some people spring means renewal, but for allergy sufferers it means sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes. Allergies — with symptoms ranging from sinus congestion and hay fever to asthma, dermatitis or hives — are a sign of impaired immune function. According to the Asthma Society of Canada, one in five Canadians suffer from respiratory allergies like seasonal allergic rhinitis, better know as hay fever.

Depending on the particular allergy, allergy season can begin in the early spring and persist until late fall. This leads many of us to reach for standard over-the-counter relief like antihistamines and decongestant medications, which can cause undesirable side effects like drowsiness or dizziness. But regardless of your allergy or the season, you can instead opt for immune-enhancing supplements that will keep your immune system strong while providing health benefits instead of unwanted effects.

Here are my recommendations for six supplements to add to your allergy-fighting arsenal.

1. Vitamin C with bioflavonoids: Allergens cause certain cells in the body to produce histamine, which is responsible for common seasonal complaints like tearing, excess mucus and a runny nose. Vitamin C prevents the formation of histamine, while typical over-the-counter antihistamine medications work by interfering with the histamine after it is produced. Vitamin C’s immune-enhancing effect also makes it essential in preventing infection as well as in shortening the duration of an illness.

To maximize effectiveness, vitamin C is best taken with bioflavonoids — the natural pigments in fruits and vegetables — in divided doses spaced throughout the day. The bioflavinoids enhance the activity of vitamin C in the body and help to stabilize mast cells, which secrete the histamine linked to allergic reactions. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is safe even at high doses. It may act as a natural laxative in certain individuals, so be sure to increase the dose slowly and spread it throughout the day. Depending on bowel tolerance, one can easily take 2,000 to 6,000 mg per day for stress protection and immune support.

2. Acidophilus/probiotics: Studies have shown that taking acidophilus, a probiotic, can help reduce the frequency and severity of infections. Acidophilus is the friendly bacteria that lives in our digestive tract. Our gut bacterial balance is affected by the use of antibiotics, the birth control pill or excess sugar and carbohydrate intake. Everyone can benefit from the use of probiotics for healthy digestion and immunity. Acidophilus has also been found useful in the treatment and prevention of skin conditions, allergies and thrush. Be sure to follow any course of antibiotics with supplements of acidophilus for double the length of time you took the antibiotics. I recommend a probiotic with at least 10 to 15 billion cells per capsule daily, taken separately from eating, such as on rising and/or before bed.

3. Multivitamin/mineral: Vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper growth, metabolism, digestion, immune system function, muscle and nerve function and detoxification processes in the liver. Scientific studies have shown that the majority of us are deficient in many essential nutrients because of poor dietary habits and other factors which may deplete nutrient levels such as caffeine, drugs, stress or pollution. A full-spectrum multivitamin and mineral product in a highly absorbable form is essential to ensure the foundation of health.

In a study published in Nutrition Research, researchers found a significant increase in cells and chemicals that play a role in immune function in those who consumed a daily multivitamin, compared with the same markers in those taking the placebo. Compared with individuals taking the placebo, those taking the multivitamin supplement had 53 percent fewer days of illness due to infection.

4. EPA/DHA fish oils: Healthy types of oils are necessary for the formation of every cell in the body. Eicosapentaenoic acid EPA and docosahexaenoic acid DHA, the components of essential fatty acids, are natural anti-inflammatory agents and my favourite year-round supplement. Their anti-inflammatory action makes them useful in treating and preventing heart disease, and they also have beneficial effects on cholesterol, triglycerides and on the tendency of blood to clot. Essential fatty acids help to moisten the skin and improve bowel function. Symptoms of depression, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia and memory loss may improve with essential fatty acid supplements. Finally, fish oils are also very useful for the treatment and prevention of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

One German study involving 568 people found that a high content of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells or in the diet was associated with a decreased risk of hay fever. Take 2,000 to 6,000 mg daily with meals (two or three capsules twice daily).

5. Quercetin: Onions are often the cause of our tears, but strangely enough, they do contain an ingredient to treat watery or itchy eyes, asthma and hay fever. Quercitin, the bioflavinoid found in onions, is an effective inhibitor the release of histamine, the cause of allergic reactions, from mast cells. It also acts as a natural anti-viral compound, which can help prevent herpes outbreaks and the common cold.

Quercetin is best taken with vitamin C mixed with bioflavonoids, as this improves the antihistamine effect. Vitamin C alone may also have beneficial effects on histamine levels by preventing histamine release from cells and by improving the breakdown of histamine. Quercetin may be effective for allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, sinusitis, cold and flu. Much like vitamin C, Quercetin stabilizes the mast cells (specialized immune cells) that cause an allergic reaction, and decreases the release of histamine, which could help decrease allergy symptoms. Take 500 to 1,000 mg two or three times per day.

6. Plant sterols: These are one of my favourite products. Plant sterols modulate your immune system. If some aspects are running too high (as in autoimmune diseases or allergies) they help to bring them down. Or if they are running too low (like with frequent colds or the flu) sterols help to increase your immune system function. They decrease the specific immune factor that causes the allergic response and the release of histamine. Therefore, it is beneficial for allergy sufferers to try to balance their immune system with sterols and sterolins. Sterols also decrease levels of cortisol, the “stress” hormone, which is essential for keeping your immune system strong. I usually recommend taking these on an empty stomach, such as upon rising and before bed. You may combine them with your acidophilus supplements.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.

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