Asthma is a world wide health problem affecting about three hundred million people world wide. In the United States more than twenty million people suffer with asthma. The incidence of asthma increased greatly in 1980’s and 1990’s and has leveled off in recent years, but remains high. US cities are more affected and those cities with the greatest pollution, high pollen and those without smoke free laws are most affected. Incidence of asthma is higher in the lower socioeconomic groups.
Asthma is a reversible airway disease characterized by inflammation around the bronchial tubes and oxidative damage. Your bronchial tubes, or airways, bring air to and from your lungs. Large and small airways may be affected. Different environmental exposures can serve as triggers. A trigger is something that starts the asthmatic episode. Most common triggers are air pollutants and pollen that irritate the air way. Exercise, allergies, humidity, cold and acid reflux can all initiate an attack. A normal healthy airway will react or spasm in response to triggers, but in the asthmatic the response is greater and lasts longer. When the airways react, they get narrow and less air flows to the lungs. Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. If the reaction is large enough it can be a life threatening event. Although it is by definition a reversible disorder, each time one has an event, the lungs may be irreversibly damaged by the inflammation. It is thought that those with lower antioxidant levels and a decreased ability to deal with toxins are more susceptible to developing asthma.
Asthma is diagnosed by your doctor based on your clinical symptoms and testing. Symptoms include recurrent wheezing, coughing, trouble breathing and chest tightness. Tests include pulmonary function tests that are performed with the use of a spirometer. A spirometer is a devise that measures how well you move air in and out of your lungs. The doctor may assess your airway in two steps. Baseline function can be established, then a medication that opens the airway is administered and another spirometric test is performed. A diagnosis is made if there is improvement in movement of air.
The treatment of asthma is geared toward opening the airways and preventing damage to the lungs. There are two types of medications, long and short acting. The long acting medications work to prevent attacks and decrease inflammation. Short acting medications are usually locally acting inhalers that are used during an attack. Naturopathic approaches may include increasing antioxidant levels and detoxification capacity.