How to Manage Asthma Better
How to breathe better, identify triggers, and avoid flare-ups—on World Asthma Day, we share the ways to cope with the condition
People who have asthma say it is like breathing through a straw. There are days when it feels like a block of cement is weighing down on their chest. According to the World Health Organisation, it was estimated that over 262 million people had asthma globally in 2019. Asthma is one of the most common chronic condition among children— as per the 2018 Global Asthma Report, in India about 6% of children and 2% adults suffered from asthma. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this life-altering condition. The only way to address asthma is to learn effective ways of managing asthma it and controlling triggers.
1. Be wary of pollen. It is a major contributor to asthma. The pollen count is usually high on hot and windy days. It is best to stay indoors between 5 to 10 AM as pollen counts are usually the highest between these hours.
2. Dander alert. If you have pets watch out for exposure to dander—allergy-causing skin cells and proteins. Bathe your pets once a week and try to keep them out of your bedroom.
3. Smite dust mites. Dust mites are another common trigger for asthma attacks. While they cannot be completely eliminated, they can be reduced. This can be done by washing your pillow covers, bedsheets and towels in hot water at least once a week. Keep surfaces at home dust-free.
4. Eat colourful fruits. Flavonoid-rich food such as apples and grapes help strengthen capillary walls and protect the membranes in our body’s airways from damage.
5. Stock up on Omega fats. Fish like pangas, sardines, tuna and mackerel contain fatty acids – gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These can help reduce the dependence on asthma rescue medication. Fish oil also partially reduces reactions that trigger attacks.
Vegetarian source of Omega 3 fatty acids include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy bean oil.
Beyond this, it in important to mind your diet—certain food allergies can also trigger reactions, more common among those who have asthma. A food allergy occurs when the immune system misidentifies some food proteins as a threat to the body. “When the antibody Immunoglobulin E or IgE interacts with food antigens, it becomes cross-linked and binds to mast cells. These cells then release inflammatory mediators such as histamine, leukotrienes, inflammatory cytokines and chemotactic molecules. These inflammatory agents then cause an immediate allergic reaction,” explains Dr Lakshmi, head nutritionist, URLife. And, since the food allergens travel through the blood to the gastrointestinal tract, symptoms are visible in the mouth, esophagus and the intestine. These reactions could be an itchy sensation inside the mouth, throat or ears, swelling in the face, a red rash and vomiting.
The foods that cause a majority of allergic reactions are eggs, milk, peanut, fish, and shellfish. Sometimes, these foods go beyond the bounds of minor reactions and spread across the body. This reaction is called anaphylaxis—¬more likely to occur if you have asthma as well as a food allergy. Consider testing yourself for food allergies if you experience these symptoms soon after a meal.
Incorporate these foods in your diet to help manage asthma and allergies
Vitamin D: Research has linked the increased risk of asthma to low levels of vitamin D. It boosts the immune system response and helps alleviate airway inflammation. Vitamin D supplements have a protective effect against acute respiratory function and exacerbations caused by asthma. Egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified milk and orange juice are rich in vitamin D.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E may be effective in reducing symptoms of asthma such as coughing or wheezing. This is due to the presence of a chemical compound called tocopherol. Cruciferous vegetables, pumpkin, almonds and sunflower seeds are natural sources of vitamin E.
Vitamin A: A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in 2018 linked low levels of vitamin A to asthma. It was found that children with asthma had lower levels of vitamin A compared with non-asthmatic children. The study further suggests that asthmatic children with higher levels of vitamin A showed improved lung function. Eggs, cod liver oil, orange and yellow vegetables are natural sources of vitamin A.
Avoid these ingredients to manage asthma
Sulfites: Sulfites are a preservative that are found in dry fruit, pickled food, shrimp, alcohol, lime juice and red wine. This ingredient only worsens asthma symptoms.
Foods that cause gas: Items like beans, cabbage, garlic and fried foods puts pressure on your diaphragm, causing chest tightness that can trigger asthma.
Salicylates: These are naturally occurring compounds and may be found in tea, coffee, aspirin, spices and some herbs. However, the chances of developing an allergic reaction to salicylates are rare.
“Keep in mind that food restrictions and allergies vary depending on the individual. Remember, no single food or vitamin will supply all the nutrients you need. A diet with a variety of vitamins and nutrients is must to keep our bodies healthy,” says Kilaru.
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