What is Asthma?

Asthma is an inability to breathe properly. During an asthma episode, muscle spasms and swelling bronchial tissues narrow the airways, which then become clogged with excess mucus. Stale air gets trapped in the bottom of the lungs, forcing your child to use the top part to gasp for air. Some people with asthma experience only mild and infrequent episodes, while others experience frequent and serious attacks that require emergency medical treatment.

What are the Symptoms of Asthma?

  • Night time cough.
  • Restlessness or insomnia.
  • Increasing, but relatively painless, tightness in the chest.
  • Mild to moderate shortness of breath.
  • A wheezing or whistling sound when breathing – wheezing is a classic symptom of asthma, but many other conditions can produce wheezing that mimics asthma. Don’t forget that many children and infants wheeze at some time, but few develop asthma.
  • Coughing, sometimes accompanied by phlegm.

What are the Causes of Asthma?

Asthma is most likely a result of genetic susceptibility. About one-third of all people with asthma share the problem with another member of their immediate family. The risk of having an asthmatic child may be six times higher if both parents have a history of asthma than if just one had the disease. There has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of asthma in industrial countries, even though outdoor air pollutants are decreasing. There are several possible explanations – for example, children now spend more time indoors and are overexposed to indoor allergens. Modern energy-efficient homes may result in dust mites being trapped inside them, and more low-birth-weight babies are surviving and may be more susceptible to asthma. However, other respiratory diseases, sinusitis and ear infections are also increasing, which suggests that airborne or environmental factors may be involved. Allergies may also play a role.

Traditional Medical Treatments for Asthma

Your doctor will probably administer a pulmonary function test, which measures the strength of your child’s exhalation. A person without asthma can usually exhale about 75-85% of the air in the lungs within a second and fill them within three seconds. A person with asthma will expel all the air from the lungs within six or seven seconds. A peak flow test is the most common pulmonary function test. It takes readings as your child exhales into a device called a peak flow meter.Inhalers are often prescribed which act by opening the airways and reducing the response of the airways to irritants.

Complementary/Alternative Treatments for Asthma

Many people with asthma are interested in learning about, and possibly trying, treatments and therapies that do not use prescription medicines. These include yoga, acupuncture, homeopathy, hypnosis, Buteyko and other breathing techniques, herbal medicines, ionizers, oxygen water, chiropractic manipulation and speleotherapy among others. These are generally referred to as complementary or alternative therapies. However, there is very little scientific evidence that these therapies have efficacy in asthma management for adults but in children they have not generally been researched and it does not follow that what is useful in adults is also useful in children. Efficacy in a medical context indicates that the desirable, beneficial and acceptable results of a therapeutic effect is as a consequence of a medical treatment (e.g. intake of a medicine, an operation, or a vaccination). This efficacy refers to a consensus that the proposed treatment is at least as good as other available interventions to which it will have ideally been compared to in a clinical trial.