The first time I ever came face to face with asthma was when my daughter, Elise, was in ninth grade and I got an urgent call from the nurse’s office. “Mrs. Michael, please come quickly. Lisi is having trouble breathing.”
Needless to say, I dropped everything and tore up to her school. I was praying that it was no more serious than the last time I had gotten an alarming health alert from the nurse, years earlier, when Elise was in Kindergarten. She had complained of a severe stomachache, and there was concern that it might be appendicitis. As soon as I arrived, ashen and shaking from anxiety, my daughter shot up from the cot in the infirmary.
“Oh, hi Mommy,” she chirped. “I feel better so much better. Let’s go home. I’m starving. How about clam chowder! But not with the tomato chunks, you know, the cweamy kind!!”
Cweamy indeed! Emergency obviously over. But when I got to school this time, her chest was tight and she was still coughing and wheezing, all the classic symptoms of asthma. What possibly could have triggered this sudden attack?
The nurse opined, “It came on right after she ate a pear. Probably some chemical in the skin.”
As we drove off to the pediatrician, I noticed the nurse running after the car, frantically flailing her arms, a half-eaten pear dangling by the stem in one hand. She caught up and tossed in the offending fruit. “Here, take this with you,” insisted the nurse, no doubt a CSI devotee, “to be inspected.”
The good news? Elise wasn’t poisoned. But we were faced with the diagnosis that she had childhood asthma. Fortunately, after a few years of needing an inhaler from time to time before she exercised, she eventually outgrew it. To this day, though, she has never eaten another pear.
It is estimated that asthma affects more than 22 million people in the U.S. alone, and it is the most common chronic condition in kids. No one is certain what causes it—most scientists believe it is partly genetic, partly environmental – and, while some children, like Elise, see symptoms resolve with age, there is no cure. But it is known that inhaled allergens and irritants, such as smoke, pollen, dust, mold, and strong odors and fumes, as well as certain common products and foods, even a beloved furry pet, can all cause the airways leading to the lungs to become inflamed and swollen. Furthermore, the difficulty in breathing experienced by asthmatics often leads to anxiety attacks. And when stress levels increase, so do asthma symptoms. It’s a vicious cycle.
Yes, living with chronic asthma can be challenging. But here are 12 suggestions that will help you breathe easier.
Create an action plan. “Managing asthma is a team effort,” advises Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. Patients (or parents) should work with their healthcare provider to develop an “asthma action plan” such as the one developed by the ALA,.specifying medications and how to alter them if the condition worsens. For children, the action plan should involve teachers and school officials.” To download a copy of an Asthma Action Plan, visit www.lungusa.organd click Lung Disease > Asthma > Living with Asthma > Take Control of Your Asthma.
Breathe away anxiety. Mark McGee, a 6th Degree Black Belt, Senior Instructor, T’ai Chi and Qigong, at Grace Martial Arts in Tampa, Florida, offers: “Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise that improves emotional well-being as it harmonizes the mind, body, and breath. Since anxiety is a root of many health problems, one of the best antidotes is to breathe deeply from a strong foundation. Here’s an example exercise: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Take in a deep breath while raising your shoulders as high as you can comfortably … then let out your breath slowly while lowering your shoulders, hollowing your chest, rounding your back, lowering your chin, bending your knees slightly, and tucking your sacrum. Once you feel you are close to being out of breath, inhale again and repeat the raising of your shoulders, followed by a slow exhale and full body relax. Use your mind during the exercise to focus on how good you feel as you nourish every cell in your body with the rush of air and natural stretching. And spend a minute afterward enjoying slow, deep breaths before returning to your work or routine. You will feel more joy and less anxiety and look forward to the challenges of life.”
Radical Solution. According to KC Craichy, best-selling author of The Super Health Diet: The Last Diet You Will Ever Need. “Inflammation is one of the results of free radical damage, so controlling free radicals is an important aspect of dealing with illnesses like asthma. That’s where antioxidants and healthy fats play a vital role in your diet. Antioxidants control free radicals “before” they are able to cause inflammatory damage to cells in your body. Trade foods that are high glycemic and high in bad fats for foods that are rich in antioxidants and healthy fats. Those good foods — preferably organically grown and have no insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and added hormones — include blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, kelp, wild alaskan salmon, chia seeds, turmeric, green tea, papaya, extra virgin olive oil, broccoli, red kidney beans, pinto beans, apricots, mangoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados and cantaloupe.”
Workout your Worries. Don’t use asthma as an excuse not to exercise. Such superstar athletes as four-time Olympian Jackie Joyner Kersee and NFL running back Jerome Bettis never let it stop them. Of course, check with your physician if you have exercise-induced asthma, and take your inhaler or any other prescribed medicines as directed. “If outdoor air quality is poor from pollution or a high pollen count, stay indoors,” says fitness coach, David Owens, who creates personalized programs for patients at Riverdale Physical Therapy. “If you feel symptoms or shortness of breath at any time, stop and rest. Walking, cycling and swimming are the best forms of exercise,” he says. “If you are just beginning or you’ve been sedentary for some time, start with a short session. Even 10 minutes is better than nothing.”
Safeguard your Skin. Our skin is our largest organ; but being porous, it also absorbs much of what we put on it topically. Organic lotions, potions, creams and cosmetics – like organic food – are proliferating, now even found in the health and beauty aisles of mega-chain stores. And although some mainstream brands claim to have hopped on the ‘Green Train,’ boasting to be free of synthetics and petrochemical compounds, buyer beware: Just like I advise for nutrition, get in the habit of reading labels. If you can’t pronounce it – don’t buy it. In particular, be wary of such additives as parabens, propylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, imidazolidinyl urea, petrolatum, mineral oil, diethanolamine, triethanolamine, formaldehyde, and artificial fragrance and color. If you want to be certain that a product is certified organic by a reliable source, look for the USDA organic seal on the packaging.
Get to the point. Alternative therapies have been used for centuries to provide relief for people with asthma. Mexican folklore even went so far as to recommend owning a Chihuahua. But according to Dr Belinda Anderson, Academic Dean of Pacific College of Oriental Medicine’s New York Campus, “Some studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in the treatment of asthma.” Acupuncture is based on the ancient philosophy that energy flows through the human body in opposing “positive” and “negative” forces, the yin and yang. The belief is that conditions such as asthma represent an imbalance of these forces. Since energy is said to flow through the body along certain specific paths called meridians, by gently inserting thin, disposable needles at strategic spots along these meridians, this balance is thought to be effectively aligned. For more information on how to find a practitioner in your area, contact a local college of acupuncture and Oriental medicine regarding their graduates or their on- or off-site low-cost clinics (a list of accredited acupuncture colleges can be found at www.acaom.org)
Supporting Role. Given the close relationship between stress and asthma, remember the Law of Attraction: Display genuine kindness and compassion in your dealings with others as this will come back to you. Remain connected to your family and friends who can help reduce your stress and anxiety. Consider joining a local support group to meet other people with asthma so you can learn from their experiences. For help finding one, visit www.lungusa.organd search for keywords “Breathe Well, Live Well.”
Sweet Sleep Surrender. “In asthma, symptoms can become quite severe in the early morning hours or late at night” says Interfaith Minister Skye Ann Taylor, “so it is important to prepare yourself for sleep. This is a great moment of surrender and it serves you best if you sleep with an easy mind.”. Skye suggests looking back over your day to see what could be adjusted, resolved and sorted out. Is there some forgiveness needed for yourself or another? An unfinished argument? “Try to come to a certain peace in your heart/mind before you go to sleep,” she continues. “Allow yourself to breath easy as you move into the dream state and never underestimate the power of prayer.”
Connect with your creative side. If you know how to worry—and who doesn’t—you can use that same energy and imagination to focus your mind on being more positive. So instead of letting, for example, the fear of an asthma attack cause you stress, today, this very moment, try to find an opportunity to be creative, preferably something that you canmake a part of your daily or weekly life. Why not start a journalor a scrapbook, compose a heartfelt letter (or e-mail) to a family member or former best friend with whom you’ve lost contact; or simply plan to turn a routine event, like a family dinner, into more fun. Try making every Tuesday into International Night, sampling a new cuisine (homemade, if possible) each week. You’ll find that weavingin even the smallest creative changes can be a buffer to the blues.
Home Improvements. Not only does my friend Susan B have asthma, but multiple chemical sensitivities, as well. In other words, any allergen or pollutant can set off an attack. “I keep my home as trigger-free as possible,” she says. “I only use HEPA filter vacuums and eco-friendly cleaning supplies,” like those made by Method, Seventh Generation, and Green Works. For a homemade all-natural kitchen cleanser, Susan fills an empty spray bottle with a solution of half water and half white vinegar, which she uses on her kitchen surfaces. “For those hard-to-clean places,” she adds, “make a paste of baking soda and water and scrub it off with steel wool. To shine and hydrate a wood finish, apply a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. Finally, if you pour a half-cup vinegar and a cup of baking soda into the washing machine, you’ll need less detergent. Add a drop of lavender oil for natural fragrance.”
Reap your Reward. Successfully dealing with the symptoms of any disease is rewarding. But with asthma, there is an added plus. The fear and panic of not being able to breathe make asthma worse. By the same token, conquering both the physical and psychological symptoms of asthma proves that you have the strength to defeat them. This newfound confidence will help to reduce those very anxiety-produced symptoms from recurring. The best reward of all!
Universal Health Care. Be kind to Mother Nature, as this Earth is the only one we have. Going green is no longer a trend, it should be a lifestyle. Reuse, recycle, and compost. Learn as much as you can about cleaning up our food and environment, and the knowledge will go a long way in helping not only those suffering from asthma — but all of us, in fact — live healthier lives.