Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the airways and causes breathing difficulties. With asthma, the lining of the airways is swollen, which can make the air passages extremely sensitive to various triggers. Common asthma triggers that cause airway inflammation include pollen, mold, dust mites, tobacco smoke, physical activity, food allergies, and weather changes.
Asthma symptoms vary from one individual to another. Most frequently, however, people experience wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. The sudden worsening of symptoms is also known as an asthma attack.
Although there is no known cure for asthma, the condition can be managed and controlled with the right medication and treatment plan.
How Common Is Asthma?
Asthma is considered one of the most common conditions in the United States. It affects 1 in 13 Americans and causes about 14 million hospital visits every year. Though it is more prevalent in children and teenagers, asthma can develop at any age.
The most common risk factors for developing the condition are having a family history of asthma, contracting a viral infection as a child, suffering from allergies, or being exposed to chemical irritants.
Everyday Living with Asthma
Living with asthma can be challenging at times, but it should not prevent you from doing the things you love. A good asthma management plan helps to control and prevent attacks from interfering with everyday activities. With your treating physician or nurse, you can develop a personalized plan that fits your lifestyle, and learn how to avoid triggers, how to take asthma medications, and how to manage asthma attacks.
Asthma medication comes in various forms including inhalers, tablets, liquids, and injections. There are a few different methods for taking asthma medications. Some are taken by mouth, while others are inhaled through a respiratory device. Such devices include metered dose inhalers (MDIs), dry powder inhalers, and nebulizers (devices that change the medication from a liquid to a mist).
Asthma Diet Tips
While there is no cure for asthma, eating a well-balanced diet (and avoiding foods that trigger asthma) may help improve your symptoms and overall health. Generally speaking, people with asthma are encouraged to increase their daily fruit and vegetable intake and minimize the intake of processed foods.
Before making any drastic changes to your current diet, it’s best to consult your treating physician or a nutritionist.
Foods that Help Asthmatic Symptoms
There is no specific asthma diet that can eliminate your condition, but there are certain foods and nutrients that can help support the function of your lungs. Consider eating more foods rich in vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones, muscles, and lung function. Sources include milk, eggs, salmon, and fortified orange juice.
Vitamin E contains tocopherol, which can help decrease the risk of wheezing and coughing. Sources of vitamin E include broccoli, hazelnuts, almonds, raw seeds, kale, and mustard greens.
Because a single vitamin or food cannot supply all the nutrients your body needs, it’s best to aim for a diet with a rich variety of vitamins and nutrients.
Foods to Avoid
Whenever possible, avoid artificial ingredients and sulfites as they may worsen asthma and trigger flare-ups. Artificial ingredients (such as colorings and flavorings) are often found in processed and fast foods. Sulfites are preservatives typically used in wine, shrimp, and dried fruits.
If you have acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), avoid foods that cause gas or bloating, such as cabbage, beans, and carbonated drinks, as they can put pressure on the diaphragm, leading to chest tightness and asthma symptoms.
People suffering from food intolerances and allergies (e.g. dairy, nuts, soya, wheat) may also have asthma.
Exercising with Asthma
Physical activity helps to improve and maintain your overall wellbeing and fitness. Regular exercise can also reduce asthma symptoms by improving lung function and enhancing the body’s ability to use oxygen. Asthmatic patients can enjoy any type of exercise as long as the condition is well-managed and symptoms are under control.
If the asthma is not well-controlled – or the person is new to exercise – moderately intensive activities are recommended. This may include walking instead of using a car, doing yoga, golfing, or playing badminton. Higher intensity exercises include swimming, football, running, baseball, and resistance training.
If cold air triggers your asthma, cold weather sports such as hockey, ice skating, and skiing should be avoided. It is advised to stick to indoor activities until the weather warms up.
During physical activity, it is normal to develop a fast heartbeat and have an increased breathing rate. If you start to experience asthma symptoms, however, stop the activity immediately and use your reliever inhaler to avoid an attack.
Children with asthma are advised to exercise for at least one hour each day, while adults should aim for 30 to 45 minutes.
Traveling with Asthma
Before taking a trip, visit your treating physician to ensure your asthma is under control.
When planning your travel itinerary, consider possible weather changes and air allergens that can bring on asthma symptoms. If the condition is well-managed, there should be no problem sightseeing, hiking, or traveling to high altitudes. Unless you’re traveling solo, it is a good idea to inform your travel companions about your asthma and how they can help you if needed.
Before traveling with asthma, don’t forget to check your medications and ensure that you bring enough on your trip. If traveling by plane, pack all of your medications in your carry-on.
Adequate travel insurance with asthma is essential. Make sure your insurance covers your destination and research the medical care beforehand. It’s important to know where to go in case you need medical assistance.
Smoking and Asthma
Tobacco smoke is one of the most common triggers of asthma symptoms. It can harm the airways of both smokers and people exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke.
When inhaled, the substances found in tobacco settle in the lining of the airways and can trigger asthma flare-ups. Smokers with asthma can have ongoing asthma symptoms and an increased number of asthma attacks.
Inhaling secondhand smoke is especially harmful to children with asthma and can lead to lung and sinus infections. Such infections can worsen asthma symptoms and make them difficult to control.
Living with Asthma
The key to living with asthma is to keep it under control by avoiding things and activities that can trigger an attack. The condition is different for each person, but if you pay close attention to the details of your management plan, you can lead an active, healthy life.
Read more about asthma and respiratory care in our blog!