Soon the trees will start leafing out, but before the leaves there will be little inconspicuous flowers. They are the first source of nectar for honey bees but also the source of pollen. If you are one of the estimated 25 million asthma sufferers that tree pollen may trigger serious asthma attacks. But is that pollen really the source of your asthma attacks? Could the source be something so much easier to control?
What is Asthma?
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, it is “a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning.”
The narrowing of the airway walls caused by inflammation and a build up of mucus causes the symptoms we diagnose as asthma.
How do we keep our bodies from reacting to our environment in such a way?
One of the most overlooked solutions is getting fresh air. This may seem the opposite of what would help but in winter, we are cooped up in our homes where all kinds of pathogens and toxins accumulate. From dog hair to the toxicity of aerosol cleaners to poor eating habits every day we create perfect environments for inflammation and irritation of our airways.
How Can we Help Ourselves Breathe Better?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Get outside. I know that sounds counterintuitive and I’ve already suggested it but studies have shown that our homes have 3-5 times more toxins than the outdoors. Those trees may have pollen but they are also taking in vast amounts of toxins from the air. Trees clean the air so we can breathe easier.
- Eat a healthy diet. Include as many brightly colored fruits and vegetables as you can. Organic if possible. Each color signifies different nutrients, all needed for a healthy immune system. Have you noticed sugar and bread are white? No nutrients! Eliminate as many sugar and highly processed foods as possible. You and your children will be healthier eating more fruit and less candy.
- Use natural cleaning product. It is easy to make your own out of vinegar and baking soda. Clean wood with a product you can pour on a rag and then wash the rag. Aerosols contain so many irritants we are doing ourselves a disservice to use them at all. Go online and find lots of cleaning products and recipes that don’t put added chemicals into your home.
- Brush your pets. They will love the attention (usually) and you will be getting hair and dander out of your environment. This is a great task for a child to learn responsibility.
- Wash and vacuum regularly. I know you already do this. But pay attention to under your bed (have you looked under there lately?) and under the couch. Dust and dust mites live quietly in those overlooked spaces, adding irritants to the air every time the furnace fan goes on.
- Manage your Stress. This is probably the most difficult aspect of asthma relief. Stress causes our body to go into overdrive and decreases our ability to fight off disease. It compromises our immune system, so we are unable to overcome the multiple toxins we encounter on a daily basis. But how to relieve stress in today’s fast-paced world? Start by just doing some deep breathing or take a short walk. Exercise is good at keeping asthma at bay. Notice if the air is cold, if anything is greening up, or if birds are singing. In today’s world we tend to focus and don’t notice the world around us. It’s pretty amazing, check it out!
- See your chiropractor. Asthma has been linked to poor posture, especially a condition called “forward head posture.” This posture causes strain on the vertebra and nerves reaching out to the lungs. Just try this exercise:
Lean forward and take a deep breath and breathe out; now stand up straight and take a deep breath and breathe out. Which one gave you more oxygen?
If you suffer from asthma that deep breath may even have caused you to cough. If so, your chiropractor can give you exercises to retrain your spine to an upright position so your asthma attacks become less frequent.
The “Hygiene Hypothesis” is something to take very seriously.
In a study done by Andrew H Liu “Hygiene theory and allergy and asthma prevention” he summarizes his findings this way
“Epidemiological trends of allergic diseases and asthma in children reveal a global rise in their prevalence over the past 50 years. Their rapid rise, especially in metropolitan locales, suggests that recent changes in modern environments and/or lifestyles underlie these trends. One environmental/lifestyle factor that may be contributing to this trend is called the hygiene hypothesis: that naturally occurring microbial exposures in early life may have prompted early immune maturation and prevented allergic diseases and asthma from developing. Subsequently, children raised in modern metropolitan lifestyles, relatively devoid of this natural microbial burden, may have under‐stimulated immune systems in infancy, thereby allowing for the ‘allergic march’– a pattern of pro‐allergic immune development and disorders.”
This evidence that our western lifestyle is the major cause of asthma can be simply resolved. All of us need to get outside, gardening, playing at the park, or just rolling around in the grass (assuming it isn’t sprayed with chemicals). Asthma is a disorder that has its onset in many cases in childhood. There are over 7 million children suffering from asthma in the United States.
The overuse of antimicrobial soaps and cleaners is making us sick. Spring is on the way, let’s embrace the mud and enjoy the dandelions with our children. They, and you, will be healthier for it.[i]
[i] Liu, Andrew H “Hygiene theory and allergy and asthma prevention”, Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology/ Volume21, Issue s3