Living with asthma can be demanding, between recognizing potential asthma attack triggers to managing day-to-day symptoms. Those suffering from asthma are often looking for more tips and solutions beyond their physician’s office to manage their condition.
Many online organizations and forums list different herbs, fruits and other natural substances that are supposed to relieve asthma symptoms, but do some of these actually work? In this post, we take a look at the scientific evidence (if any) behind some of the internet’s most popular “natural” asthma remedies.
What is causing your asthma symptoms?
If you have asthma, you are probably all-too familiar with the symptoms: difficulty breathing, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing at night, while laughing, or during exercise. Being exposed to certain triggers can increase the frequency or severity of these symptoms. While everyone’s asthma triggers are different, the CDC lists the following as some of the most common culprits:
- Tobacco smoke and smoke from burning grass or wood
- Dust mites and cockroaches
- Outdoor air pollution
- Animal dander
- Mold and pollen
- Respiratory infections
- Acid reflux
- Physical exercise
- High-humidity weather (such as thunderstorms) and cold, dry air
- Strong emotion that leads to hyperventilation
Most people use quick-relief medications, such as inhalers, to treat asthma attacks. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may have prescribed regular medication to help reduce daily airway inflammation. In the following section, we take a look at various natural remedies for asthma symptoms. However, it is important to note that these remedies are only meant to complement your current asthma treatment plan. You should not stop taking prescribed asthma medicine without talking with your doctor.
Do natural remedies for asthma symptoms work?
The internet has no shortage of home remedies for allergies, asthma and other illnesses. What there is a shortage of, however, is scientific evidence that backs up the effectiveness of many “natural” asthma treatments. Some of the most popular home remedies for asthma symptoms include:
- Honey — If nighttime coughing from asthma is keeping you up, honey may be able to help. Honey works well as a cough suppressant because it causes increased salivation and airway secretions, according to the UCLA Department of Health. They suggest taking two teaspoons at bedtime – either by the spoonful or mixed with warm water or tea – to help suppress nighttime coughing. However, honey’s role in the treatment of asthma is yet unknown. Aerosolized honey was found to decrease airway inflammation and manage asthma symptoms in rabbits. Still, more research is needed to understand its effects on humans and determine whether it can be used as a viable asthma treatment method (Kamaruzaman et al., 2014).
- Ginger — Many asthma symptoms stem from the tightening of the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. Ginger may be able to work with existing asthma medications to help relax the airway muscles and make breathing easier for people with asthma (Townsend et al., 2013). An ongoing study at the Columbia University Asthma Center at the Columbia University Asthma Center hypothesizes that two grams of ginger each day may help reduce airway inflammation and relax the airway muscles.
- Caffeine — Caffeine may help you breathe more easily as one study found that drinking caffeine can moderately improve lung function and open narrow or constricted airways for two to four hours after consumption (Welsh et al., 2010). However, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) warns against using caffeine as a regular asthma treatment, as its effects are not as strong or long-lasting as traditional asthma medications. Plus, consuming too much caffeine can cause unwanted side effects, such as insomnia, headaches and shakiness.
- Essential oils — Peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, clove and rosemary essential oils have been studied for their effects on asthma symptoms. However, the strong fragrances associated with essential oils could trigger an asthma attack for some people. Additionally, National Capital Poison Center warns that essential oils can be toxic if misused and that they should always be kept out of reach of children and pets.
Home remedies that some people have found luck with, but that still need more scientific research, include figs, warm water, lemon juice, mustard seed oil, onions, and garlic. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has found insufficient scientific evidence to recommend acupuncture, dietary herbs and supplements (such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, magnesium supplements and butterbur) as viable treatments for asthma.
Home remedies for adults with asthma
The grocery store is not the only place to find natural supplements to your asthma treatment regimen. There are plenty of things that you can do at home to help mitigate your everyday asthma symptoms. For example:
- Keeping an asthma diary can help you learn when and where your asthma symptoms are the most severe. Once you understand your asthma triggers, you can start to be more proactive in managing your symptoms. Plus, your asthma journal can help you communicate with your doctor when making decisions about your treatment.
- Clearing your home of any known allergens and asthma triggers can help reduce symptoms. Try cleaning and vacuuming regularly, closing windows to keep pollen and air pollution out, and making sure that the air in your home doesn’t get too cold or dry. If you are worried about stirring up dust while cleaning, try wearing a dust mask or asking someone else to help.
- Finding new ways to mitigate stress may be a good way to mitigate stress-related asthma symptoms as well. In a large aggregate research, researchers note that stress amplifies the immune response to environmental triggers of asthma. You can seek out common science-backed methods to reduce stress such as exercise, yoga, and meditation.
- Using a saline nasal wash can help some people with asthma symptoms, according to researchers at Birmingham Regional Severe Asthma Services. Many people with asthma also experience allergy symptoms that can exacerbate feelings of breathlessness and chest tightness. Nasal irrigation can help relieve these symptoms. However, if you decide to do a nasal rinse, make sure to familiarize yourself with the FDA’s safety recommendations to avoid infection.
Home remedies for children with asthma
As a parent, you probably want to do anything and everything you can to keep your child’s asthma from interfering with their life. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to help your child manage their asthma symptoms.
- Your child spends around eight hours each night in bed, so asthma triggers there can really aggravate symptoms. You can use zippered dust mite covers for pillows and mattresses to help keep allergens from permeating their bedding. Additionally, washing bedding in hot water once a week can help reduce nighttime allergen exposure.
- Being mindful about outdoor time can help reduce exposure to asthma triggers, such as pollen and industrial pollution. Monitoring the Air Quality Index (AQI) on AirNow can help you decide whether it is a good day for your child to play outside. Any AQI rating above 100 is likely to be unhealthy for children with asthma.
- By teaching your child to recognize their asthma triggers and symptoms, you can help them avoid unwanted respiratory stress. Also, when your child understands their limits, they are less likely to push themselves too hard during physical activity.
- Make sure that your child’s school has an asthma action plan and that all supervisors know how to react if your child starts to show signs of an asthma attack. This includes outlining the specifics of your child’s asthma treatment medicines.
For many people, the key to living an active, happy life with asthma is complimenting their own solutions with their physician’s treatment plan. This typically includes a combination of recognizing and avoiding your triggers, as well as knowing what to do when asthma symptoms start to flare up. If you are looking for more information, seeking out communities of people who live with asthma can be a great source of support and further education.