By Wyler Hecht, ND., LAc.
More than likely your child’s breathing is a mindless act. The steady cadence of his or her breath at sleep becomes faster and more labored when hard at play, but still, they breathe without a thought.
And that’s as it should be. For something that has to happen 24-7 your entire life, you wouldn’t want it to take up too much conscious brain space.
But for children who have asthma, when their symptoms are triggered, getting a good breath is the only thing on their minds.
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease in which the bronchioles (the airways that carry air to the lungs) are inflamed and narrowed and quick to react to environmental and/or intrinsic triggers.
Pollen, pet dander, dust mites and mold are common allergens that can bring on an asthma attack. Other triggers might include cold air, exercise, humidity, potent smells, smoke and even strong emotions such as anger or sadness.
When the bronchioles react, they spasm and swell even more, making it very difficult to breathe. The narrowed air passages can also cause a wheezing sound much the same as air escaping a balloon that has been pinched off.
If you’ve ever witnessed a child having an asthma attack, you know how frightening and dangerous it can be.
Treating the symptoms of asthma is obviously imperative, but from a naturopathic point of view, the daily focus should be on the underlying factors that provoke or contribute to the symptoms in the first place.
By far, the most common form of childhood asthma is allergic asthma. In fact about 90 percent of kids with asthma have allergic triggers. Both skin-prick tests and blood tests are available to determine which allergens are problematic for your child.
Once identified, a plan can be developed to reduce exposure. If your child is allergic to dust mites, a plan might include replacing carpet with wood or laminate, using special bedding and putting a HEPA air filter in your child’s bedroom.
Regardless of which allergens are found to be triggers, keeping your home clean and free of chemicals and minimizing indoor humidity should be part of an overall plan.
Despite the fact that conventional medicine all but totally ignores the role of diet in childhood asthma, identifying and eliminating food sensitivities can be a game changer.
Most people think of food allergies as immediate and obvious – such as an allergic reaction to shellfish that causes immediate itching and swelling in the throat or face.
More common, however, are delayed food sensitivities that cause problems hours later and are far less obvious.
These “hidden food allergies” often go unidentified, but they are a lurking cause of increased inflammation and a heightened risk of asthma attacks.
Blood tests are available to determine food sensitivities, but in the author’s clinical experience, an allergy challenge diet has proven more reliable for discerning problem foods. Once the offending foods are minimized or eliminated, asthma symptoms are often significantly decreased both in frequency and severity.
A good naturopathic treatment plan is comprehensive and often includes multiple modalities. Nutrients that balance the inflammatory pathway, decrease the production of histamine or decrease the oxidative damage in the bronchioles should always be considered.
Fish oil, vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin C are examples of such evidence-based nutrients. Other clinically proven alternative treatment options include biofeedback, guided imagery and massage (even if provided by trained parents).
Conventional medicine including emergency inhalers should always be close at hand for any child with asthma.
While alternative asthma management plans are not necessarily meant to take the place of standard treatment, carefully implemented naturopathic options may significantly decrease your child’s need for more aggressive medicine.