Author: Kelly Rose DipION FdSc VN

Asthma - what you need to know

Asthma - what you need to know

Table of contents:


Asthma affects over 5.4 million people in the UK and can be a life threatening respiratory condition.

A recent rise in deaths from asthma and related complications has highlighted the need for increased awareness and management of this condition.

In this article we tell you what you need to know about asthma, factors involved and current treatment options.


What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition involving the bronchial tubes in the lungs.

It is characterised by an increased responsiveness of parts of the respiratory tract that leads to inflammation and narrowing of the airways, causing respiratory symptoms and distress.

A sticky mucus is also produced which can be hard to expel, effectively ‘plugging up’ the air tubes.

Asthma normally occurs in childhood, but adult onset asthma is on the rise.

Symptoms may be worse at night, in the early morning or after exercise.


Asthma symptoms

Chronic asthma gives rise to many respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and a tightness in the chest.

The frequency of these symptoms may vary according to each individual - some may experience several bouts per day whereas others may only experience an attack once a week.

An acute asthma attack may begin with the same symptoms as chronic asthma but can progress to an inability to speak, sleep or eat, due to breathlessness. A suffereer of an acute asthma attack may be unresponsive to any medication used.

The respiratory rate increases as a compensatory mechanism to try to increase oxygen levels, but as the bronchial tubes may be severely constricted, oxygen levels may fall and there may be a blue tinge to the lips or nails.

According to the NHS, asthma attacks kill three people each day and it is thought many of these deaths could be avoided (1).


Factors involved in the development of asthma

It seems a combination of factors increases the risk of developing asthma.

This explains why there may be several triggers that can provoke a response.


  • Genetics

Genetics are known to play a role and there is no single gene that is linked to asthma.

What is known is that there are several genes that interact with environmental factors and other genes to cause an over-reaction to a trigger (2).

The recent rise in the incidence of asthma can not be fully explained by genetic factors alone, as it can take several generations for genetic changes to cause an effect.


  • Air pollution

Air quality is declining and it is common to find incidence of asthma is higher in urban areas compared to rural areas.

The increased presence of ozone, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide is linked to the development of asthma (3).

Traffic pollution and products resulting from combustion of biomass fuels have been linked to respiratory issues.


  • Chemicals

The modern world is full of chemicals and it can be hard to avoid them.

They are present in cleaning products, antibacterial products, cosmetics, toiletries, perfumes, food and water supplies.

There is much evidence to show that exposure to chemicals, such as phthalates found in plastics,and pesticides, is linked with asthma (4,5).


  • Environmental allergens

Common culprits for increasing asthma onset include environmental allergens like grass or tree pollen.

These seem to irritate the airways and cause the classic over-reaction and bronchial spasms that lead to narrowed airways and respiratory symptoms.

Environmental moulds are also a contributing factor.


  • Indoor allergens

One of the most common indoor allergens that may cause asthma symptoms in people who are susceptible is the house dust mite.

This mite lives in mattresses, bedding, carpets, curtains and upholstery and has been linked to many childhood cases of asthma.

Fur or feathers from family pets can also be a factor in the development of asthma and removal of pets from the home may give significant improvements in symptoms for some people.


  • Climate change

Changes in the environment and climate may not be the first thought when it comes to asthma, but research shows that an increase in hot weather encourages higher pollen levels, potentially triggering more cases of asthma.

The changes in weather patterns also brings more thunderstorms during the warmer months - it is thought that the changes in humidity and electromagnetic impulses during a thunderstorm are also responsible for an increase in asthma (6).


  • Stress and emotions

Stress causes changes to the secretion of stress hormones, some of which have potent natural anti-inflammatory actions.

Chronic stress may reduce the production or effect of these hormones, leading to a rise in inflammation that may contribute to reactivity of the airways in asthma.

Stress also negatively impacts the immune system.

Emotions such as anger and fear are also known to play a role in asthma (7).


  • Respiratory infections

Exposure to viruses or bacteria that lead to respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu, is known to play a role in asthma.

Increased exposure to certain viruses in childhood, like the rhinovirus, increases risk of asthma development later in life.


  • Medication

The use of specific medication such as aspirin and beta-blockers is known to increase the risk of asthma (8).

Some experts believe that the overuse of asthma medications may suppress the body’s natural anti-inflammatory pathways.


  • Altered immune functioning

Factors that may alter the natural functioning of the immune response may cause an over-reaction to certain stimuli.

Reduced nutrient status due to poor dietary intake or increased needs may impact immune function.

Digestive issues may prevent adequate absorption of nutrients or create increased systemic inflammation.

The balance of the delicate organisms of the microbiome within the gut and lungs can also impact immunity and response (9).


Current treatment options

Current recommendations for treatment of asthma include avoidance of potential triggers and medication designed to suppress the inflammatory response or to open up the airways.

These may be in the form of oral tablets of an inhaler.

Some research shows that cognitive behavioural therapy may also assist in asthma.


Natural support for asthma

Many cases of asthma may be preventable and natural solutions may aid in reducing the incidence.

If you are interested in natural solutions for asthma a discussion with an experienced Amchara Personalised Health practitioner can guide you on the best steps to take.

We’re dedicated to providing you with both insightful information and evidence-based content.

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