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Monitoring and managing asthma

FIFTY million Americans are afflicted with asthma and in Australia, it affects up to 40 per cent of children making it the single most common reason for children being admitted to hospital.

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease that affects breathing due to obstruction of the airways. The airways are inflamed and are highly sensitive to environmental allergens or irritants. During an asthma attack, the muscles that surround the airways tighten, and the membranes lining the airways start to secrete extra mucus which forms plugs that further block the air passages. Symptoms of asthma include chronic cough especially at night or wheezing during physical exercise. Asthmatic people are also prone to respiratory infections.

What causes asthma is not fully understood but children under the age of five, the elderly, people living in highly industrialised and urban centres and those with a family history of allergies and asthma have a higher chance of developing the disease. Respiratory infections can cause irritation of the airways, nose, throat, lungs, and sinuses, and may herald an asthma attack.

There is no cure for asthma but asthmatics can learn to manage the condition by working closely with a healthcare practitioner. As asthma is a chronic condition, asthmatics must monitor and recognise the signs when it is getting worse. The first step is to identify and minimise contact with asthma triggers. These include pollen, animal dander, dust mite, house dust, cockroaches, mould, air pollution, cold air and cigarette smoke.

Certain foods in sensitive individuals can also bring on an asthmatic attack. Dairy products, citrus fruits, shellfish, eggs and peanuts are possible asthma triggers. Reducing the use of household cleaners and strong fragrant sprays such as perfumes and air fresheners may also be advisable as these are possible asthma irritants.

Twenty per cent of adult asthmatic attacks are brought on due to sensitivity or allergies to medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, indomethacin (commonly prescribed pain medication) and sulphites used as preservatives in food, dried fruits and wines.

Prolonged strenuous physical exercise can provoke an asthma attack especially if the inhaled air is cool and dry. Swimming is advocated as one form of exercise that is least likely to induce asthma.

It is also important that an asthma patient understands the medication that is prescribed as well as ensuring compliance. While there are recorded herbal benefits known for the treatment of respiratory conditions; it is vital that asthma patients do not replace their medication with herbal remedies without first consulting their doctor. Adhatoda and Albizzia are two traditional herbs used for easing the symptoms of asthma and bronchitis.

Adhatoda is an evergreen that is commonly grown in the lower Himalayas bearing large white flowers with leaves about 10cm to 16cm in length. The therapeutic effect comes mainly from the leaves which contain vasicine, an alkaloid that has expectorant and antispasmodic properties. Vasicine loosens the thick mucus plugs or phlegm that block airways thus making it easy to expel. Albizzia also shares similar properties with adhatoda and in combination are useful to relieve productive coughs and bronchitis.

These two herbs also have anti-allergic action useful in the protection against allergy-induced bronchospasm (narrowing of the airways). Soothing herbs such as marshmallow and ribwort complement the action of adhatoda and albizzia by reducing the inflammation of the mucous membranes of the airways.


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