Get relief fast with these solutions
Which of the following remedies can help soothe asthma symptoms?
A. Meditation or yoga
B. A brand new showerhead
C. Taking your asthma medication regularly
D. All of the above
“Asthma is a chronic disease requiring preventive treatment,” explains David Beuther, M.D., chief medical information officer and associate professor of pulmonology at National Jewish Health in Denver. While he notes that there are various at-home ways to manage symptoms, the most important method for treating your asthma is taking your medication regularly and as directed.
“While taking daily medication may cause side effects like sore throat, dry mouth, and hoarseness, asthma drugs are some of the safest medications available,” says Dr. Beuther.
The World Health Organization estimates that roughly half of asthma patients don’t take their prescription meds as directed, citing the expense, the inconvenience, or the fear that the drugs can have other health consequences.
While there’s no replacement for asthma medication, Dr. Beuther recommends a handful of other temporary symptom relievers that you can administer at home. In order for them to be effective, however, they must be used together with medical care from your doctor, not as a replacement for it.
Here’s Dr. Beuther’s top advice.
The Most Important Symptom-Reliever of All: Use Your Inhaler Properly
Many everyday asthma-soothing strategies can provide temporary comfort. But one approach is downright deadly: Moving away from the daily preventive treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.
“The most misguided thing is when people use a rescue inhaler a crazy number of times for immediate relief, rather than long-term daily medication,” Dr. Beuther says. “That makes things worse, doesn’t address the inflammation, and allows you to get very sick in between attacks.”
Types of Inhalers
Inhaled bronchodilators are medications that fall into two categories. The more you know about how they work—and which is best to use in certain situations—the better you’ll be able to manage your asthma. Here’s the low-down.
1. Short-acting or “rescue” inhalers: These work quickly, can help you feel better right away, and are designed to be used when you feel an attack coming on. They’re not for daily use—only use them as a “rescue” when you’re having a flare-up.
2. Long-acting inhalers: The effects of these are meant to last for a long time. They’re helpful at preventing asthma attacks, so you don’t necessarily use them to rescue you if you feel an attack coming on. Your doctor may tell you to use these long-acting inhalers every day, along with other medications.
Additional treatment options may include*:
Inhaled corticosteroids: These are anti-inflammatory. They reduce the low-level tightening and swelling that may always be present in your airways. Some examples:
- Fluticasone (Flovent HFA)
- Budesonide (Pulmicort Flexhaler)
- Mometasone (Asmanex Twisthaler)
- Beclomethasone (Qvar RediHaler)
- Ciclesonide (Alvesco)
Long-acting beta2-agonists (LABAs): These bronchodilators are meant to be used regularly to control asthma that’s moderate to severe. They’re also ideal for preventing asthma symptoms at night. Your doctor will only prescribe them in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid. A couple examples:
- Salmeterol (Serevent)
- Formoterol (Foradil)
Other Tips to Soothe Asthma Symptoms
Getting a New Showerhead
Your bathroom showerhead can be an effective incubator of nontuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM, which can cause a chronic, smoldering lung infection that sometimes gets misdiagnosed as asthma (or worsens existing asthma). Avoiding the problem may be as simple as replacing your showerhead every year. “Very few people do that, but it can make a difference,” Dr. Beuther says.
Having a Daily Dose of Vitamin D
The sunshine vitamin is inexpensive, widely available, and can benefit asthma sufferers. Dr. Beuther describes vitamin D as “the only vitamin that has a bit of wind in its sails.”
Drinking clear liquids can help dilute lung-clogging mucous; widely available nasal washes can keep sinuses clear; and water vapor—steam generated by a hot shower—promotes better breathing by helping to clear the lungs.
Breathing with Your Belly
“How you breathe matters,” says Dr. Beuther. Breathing from the diaphragm (the muscle at the base of the chest) helps you relax, lowers your heart rate, and lowers your blood pressure. Unfortunately, most people use their chest and neck muscles to breathe in.
“Slower, deeper breathing can improve asthma by allowing trapped air to escape. Using the belly while relaxing your shoulders helps you do this,” explains Dr. Beuther.
Practicing Yoga or Meditation
Like belly breathing, yoga and meditation can help create more efficient breathing habits. They can also help manage stress, a known asthma trigger. As Dr. Beuther explains, “There’s something about our fight or flight hormone that constricts the airways, and good relaxation and stress management techniques can counteract that.”
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Obesity is a major risk factor for asthma, worsening the severity of symptoms and interfering with treatments. Although the precise physiological reasons are unclear, Dr. Beuther notes that “one in 200 adults develop a new diagnosis of asthma every year, and obesity doubles that risk.”
Weight loss can help greatly diminish, or even reverse, the condition.
Wearing an Air-Filter Mask and Keeping Asthma Triggers Out of the Home
In speaking with Kate Schreiber, a resident of the New York area who has been intubated twice for her severe asthma, she found that creating an allergen-free living space is essential. Because dust mites aggravate her respiratory tract, she has banned most fabrics from her home, opting instead for faux leather seating, metallic blinds, and allergy-resistant bedsheets.
Much tougher to eliminate are the many job-related asthma triggers affecting some workers. For example, factories, repair shops, and bakeries, can generate lung-irritating dust. Doctors advise wearing air-filter masks to minimize exposure, something Schreiber does whenever she ventures out.
Additional ideas for symptom relief
Raw foods, vegan diets, gluten-free regimens, and some fruits and vegetables are thought of as breathing aides, but none have been proven as effective as specific asthma treatments. However, these diets may aid in weight loss and a generally healthier lifestyle––which has been proven effective in soothing asthma symptoms.
While special diets haven’t been scientifically proven to keep asthma flare-ups at bay, Dr. Beuther notes that there are certain foods and beverages to avoid, especially late in the day.
“There is a huge connection between asthma and gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD,” says Dr. Beuther. “So anyone with asthma should avoid huge meals before bedtime and skip alcohol and caffeine late in the day.” The acid generated by GERD can splash into the lungs, complicating existing problems.
Speaking of Coffee …
Caffeine is related to the drug theophylline, once a first-order prescription for asthma that was used to open up airways in the lungs. As such, a daily cup of coffee can, in some instances, help asthma sufferers minimize their symptoms. But it can leave others feeling jittery and it can cause heartburn—so nix this soother if you’re prone to either effect. Coffee can also increase your breathing rate, which can sometimes aggravate asthma symptoms, so make sure you listen to your body.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
Asthma is notoriously under and misdiagnosed.
“One-third of the people with asthma don’t yet know they have it,” says Dr. Beuther. A 2008 study first raised awareness of the abundance of mislabeled cases. Recurrent bronchitis is frequently just undiagnosed asthma, while “asthmatics” may really have sinus or allergy issues. A doctor-administered spirometer or lung function test, along with a detailed medical history, helps separate the real thing from the imposters.
*Medicare beneficiaries can access a complete list of covered prescription drugs by visiting ibxmedicare.com/formulary.