Get relief fast with these solutions
Which of the following remedies can help soothe asthma symptoms?
A. Meditation or yoga
B. A brand-new showerhead
C. Taking your asthma medication regularly
D. Garlic cloves boiled in milk
E. All of the above
If you answered “E,” or all of the above, go ahead and treat yourself to a warm, frothy cup of garlic-flavored milk—you’re correct. But if that concoction doesn’t sound entirely appetizing, don’t worry. There are several other less pungent (and more effective) means of soothing asthma symptoms.
“Asthma is a chronic disease requiring preventive treatment,” explains David Beuther, M.D.,chief medical information officer and associate professor of pulmonology at National Jewish Health in Denver. While he notes that there are various at-home ways to manage symptoms, the most important method of treating asthma is taking your medication regularly and as directed.
“While taking daily medication can be expensive and difficult, and side effects like sore throat, dry mouth, and hoarseness can occur, asthma drugs are some of the safest medications available,” says Dr. Beuther.
The World Health Organization estimates that roughly half of asthma patients don’t take their prescription meds as directed, citing the expense, the inconvenience, or the fear that the drugs can have other health consequences.
While there’s no replacement for asthma medication, Dr. Beuther recommends a handful of other temporary symptom relievers you can administer at home. In order for them to be effective, however, they must be used in tandem with medical care from your doctor, not as a replacement for it.
Here’s Dr. Beuther’s top advice.
The Most Important Symptom-Reliever of All: Your Treatment Plan
Many everyday asthma-soothing strategies can provide temporary comfort. But one approach is downright deadly: deviating from the daily preventive treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.
“The most misguided thing is when people use a rescue inhaler a crazy number of times for immediate relief, rather than long-term daily medication,” Dr. Beuther says. “That makes things worse, doesn’t address the inflammation, and allows you to get very sick in between attacks.”
He notes that the side effects created by daily preventive medications over the course of a year are far less damaging than the impact of one brief course of oral steroids for a single attack.
“‘Steroid’ is a scary word, but these are topical drugs that deposit most of their medication onto the airway surfaces,” says Dr. Beuther. “Almost none gets further into the body. You can use them for decades without significant long-term side effects.”
A New Showerhead
Your bathroom showerhead can be an effective incubator of nontuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM, which can cause a chronic, smoldering lung infection that sometimes gets misdiagnosed as asthma (or worsens existing asthma). Avoiding the problem may be as simple as replacing your showerhead every year. “Very few people do that, but it can make a difference,” Dr. Beuther says.
A Daily Dose of Vitamin D
The sunshine vitamin is inexpensive, widely available, and can benefit asthma sufferers. Dr. Beuther describes vitamin D as “the only vitamin that has a bit of wind in its sails.”
Drinking clear liquids can help dilute lung-clogging mucous; widely available nasal washes can keep sinuses clear; and water vapor—steam generated by a hot shower—promotes better breathing by helping to clear the lungs.
Breathing with Your Belly
“How you breathe matters,” says Dr. Beuther. Breathing from the diaphragm (the muscle at the base of the chest) helps you relax, lowers your heart rate, and lowers your blood pressure. Unfortunately, most people use their chest and neck muscles to breathe in.
“Slower, deeper breathing can improve asthma by allowing trapped air to escape. Using the belly while relaxing your shoulders helps you do this,” explains Dr. Beuther.
Practicing Yoga or Meditation
Like belly breathing, yoga and meditation can help create more efficient breathing habits. They can also help manage stress, a known asthma trigger. As Dr. Beuther explains, “There’s something about our fight or flight hormone that constricts the airways, and good relaxation and stress management techniques can counteract that.”
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Obesity is a major risk factor for asthma, worsening the severity of symptoms and interfering with treatments. Although the precise physiological reasons are unclear, Dr. Beuther notes that “one in 200 adults develop a new diagnosis of asthma every year, and obesity doubles that risk.”
Weight loss can help greatly diminish, or even reverse, the condition.
Wearing an Air-Filter Mask and Keeping Asthma Triggers Out of the Home
Kate Schreiber, who was intubated twice for her severe asthma, now knows that creating an allergen-free living space is essential. Because dust mites aggravate her respiratory tract, the 26-year-old has banned most fabrics from her New York–area apartment, opting instead for faux leather seating, metallic blinds, and allergy-resistant bedsheets.
Much tougher to eliminate are the many job-related asthma triggers affecting some workers. Factories, repair shops, bakeries, and so-called “sick buildings” can generate lung-irritating dust. Doctors advise wearing air-filter masks to minimize exposure, something Schreiber does whenever she ventures out.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
Asthma is notoriously under- and misdiagnosed.
“One-third of the people with asthma don’t yet know they have it,” says Dr. Beuther. A 2008 study first raised awareness of the abundance of mislabeled cases. Recurrent bronchitis is frequently just undiagnosed asthma, while “asthmatics” may really have sinus or allergy issues. A doctor-administered spirometer or lung function test, along with a detailed medical history, helps separate the real thing from the imposters.
Remedies That May Help Asthma Symptoms (but Science Has Yet to Prove It)
Vitamin C, E, A, and Magnesium
Many people insist that supplements can resolve breathing problems, but Dr. Beuther is skeptical. “These things have no reasonable scientific evidence to support them,” he says. He fears that excessive vitamin intake can even create its own problems.
Despite their popularity among asthma sufferers, doctors insist that ginger, turmeric, black pepper, licorice root, cumin, and honey have never been scientifically proven to diminish asthma symptoms. The same caveat applies to eucalyptus, essential oils, and boiled “garlic milk” (garlic blended with milk and sugar).
Raw foods, vegan diets, gluten-free regimens, and particular fruits and vegetables have been touted as breathing aides, but none have been proven as effective as specific asthma treatments. However, these diets may aid in weight loss and a generally healthier lifestyle––which hasbeen proven effective in soothing asthma symptoms.
While special diets haven’t been scientifically proven to keep asthma flare-ups at bay, Dr. Beuther notes that there are certain foods and beverages to avoid, especially late in the day.
“There is a huge connection between asthma and gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD,” says Dr. Beuther, “so anyone with asthma should avoid huge meals before bedtime and skip alcohol and caffeine late in the day,” advises Dr. Beuther. The acid generated by GERD can splash into the lungs, complicating existing problems.
Speaking of Coffee …
Caffeine is related to the drug theophylline, once a first-order prescription for asthma that was used to open up airways in the lungs. As such, a daily cup of coffee can, in some instances, help asthma sufferers minimize their symptoms. But it can leave others jittery and cause heartburn—so nix this soother if you’re prone to either effect. Coffee can also increase your breathing rate, which can sometimes aggravate asthma symptoms.