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Alternative Asthma Treatments
Asthma is a serious disorder that affects millions of people, and despite the tireless efforts of the medical community, there is no cure. Many people need to take preventative medicine and rely on rescue medication to quell an attack, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other treatment methods.
Alternative therapies haven’t sustained the rigorous research and testing that medical asthma treatments have undergone, so it’s important to consult with your doctor before trying out something new, but these less conventional approaches to asthma care could help you breathe easier.
Biofeedback involves recognizing your body’s automatic reactions, and then learning to manually override them. You start by using electronic monitors to track various body processes (like heart rate or blood pressure) and adjust your behaviour accordingly. One study showed that asthma patients who used heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback fared much better than those who did not: they were able to significantly reduce the amount of inhaled medication they needed to control their asthma symptoms. Although more research is needed, biofeedback doesn’t bring any nasty side effects, so it may be a good place for many patients to begin.
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2. Pranayama Breathing
A central aspect in many yoga practices, pranayama breathing draws your focus to each breath, which can be helpful for asthma sufferers. The technique involves deep, controlled breathing that expands the lungs to their full capacity and balances the length of your inhalations and exhalations. Ultimately, you will learn to slow your breathing, get in touch with your lung function, and use your breath to reduce stress. It may not relieve your asthma symptoms, but it can help to prevent further muscle constriction and hyperventilation, two events that can make your breathing a whole lot worse.
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Acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat an impressive array of medical ailments, including respiratory problems. By placing thin needles at very specific points on the body thought to correspond with the lungs (often the upper back and hands), the belief is that energy pathways can be cleared, and good function can be restored. Western science is divided on the efficacy of acupuncture for such a purpose, and the few studies that have been conducted haven’t returned many promising results. However, there are rarely serious side effects (a long as the needles are properly sterilized and used by a trained practitioner), so it may be worth a shot.
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4. Herbal Remedies
Herbs, vitamins, and supplements can have powerful effects (which is why you should always talk to your doctor before taking any “natural” compound), and quite a few have been known to improve lung function. Not every asthma patient will find relief, but many report that gingko, lobelia, boswellia, butterbur, and mullein have helped to alleviate their asthma symptoms. Caffeine is a mild bronchodilator, and the theophylline in tea is actually an ingredient in some prescription drugs for asthma. Supplements in pill form can be helpful, but it’s vital that you use high-quality products in the recommended amounts, and pay close attention to any side effects.
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5. Relaxation Exercises
Stress is never fun, but it’s particularly damaging to those living with asthma. The higher your level of anxiety, the more likely your respiratory muscles will contract and your asthma symptoms will worsen. One way to swiftly and effectively overcome your stress is with progressive muscle relaxation, though it can take a bit of time to get the hang of the technique. By deliberately tensing a specific muscle group, and then consciously relaxing it, you can enjoy a release and a sense of calm; the idea is to work from the bottom of your body to the top of your head, paying close attention to each group of muscles before moving on to the next.
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6. Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Foods and supplements that reduce inflammation – like omega 3 fatty acids – may help to fight the inflammation in your airways so you can breathe easier. Many anti-inflammatory foods are simply natural, whole foods – plenty of veggies, fruits, and whole or minimally processed grains. Omega 3 fatty acids (found in cold water fish, flax seeds, and walnuts) are particularly anti-inflammatory, but be wary of omega 6 fatty acids (such as canola and sunflower oils, processed grains, and seeds), which have the opposite effects. A multivitamin can give your body a bit of a boost, but a varied, balanced diet is the best way to get the protective qualities of many vitamins and minerals.
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Since there are so many muscles around your ribcage, it follows that targeted massage therapy can relieve some strain and constriction in the muscles that facilitate breathing. In fact, massage therapy can balance muscles, improve lung function, and relieve a good deal of anxiety. A lot depends on the style and frequency of the massage: as with other therapies, you need to keep it up regularly and see a massage therapist who has experience treating people with respiratory problems. Some people have found that heated stone massage – a traditional Ayurvadic therapy – works better than other forms.
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When you live with asthma, you may become conditioned to the early warning signs of an attack – and begin to react before there’s a real danger. The first hint of shallow or constricted breathing could make you subconsciously begin to breathe more rapidly, grow anxious, and start to hyperventilate. Hypnosis taps into your subconscious mind, helping you to alter your expectations of asthma symptoms and bring your breathing back to a slow, steady rate. Visit a professional psychotherapist to learn the technique, but the ultimate goal is self-hypnosis, when you can practice at home or wherever and whenever your asthma begins to act up.
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9. Chiropractic Manipulation
Chiropractors are known for re-aligning the spine, but they can also improve the nervous system, including the nerves connected to your lungs and airways. Improvement won’t come overnight, but some patients have found that regular chiropractic adjustment can reduce asthma attacks and relieve uncomfortable symptoms, sometimes even eliminating the need for daily medication. It may be worth consulting with a chiropractor to have a deeper spinal examination; if they see problems in the regions normally associated with respiratory function, a course of spinal adjustment could make a significant difference in your asthma symptoms.
Although asthma is a respiratory illness, it’s more systemic than you might imagine: changes in other parts of your body may react with, prevent, or improve your breathing. That’s why a holistic approach to your asthma can be your best defense against attacks, and a great way to learn more about your ability to deal with and overcome your triggers. As long as you don’t trade in your medication for an alternative therapy, you may find that a few complementary methods can improve your current asthma management.
Read more about herbal remedies for asthma over at NewLifeOutlook.