“Between two lungs it was released
the breathe that passed from you to me
that flew between us as we slept
that slipped from your mouth into mine it crept.”
Breathing: it’s the first thing we do when we enter this world, the one thing we are born knowing how to do. It’s the single most important action any of us will ever take, though so many people take it for granted. But for people with asthma, breath doesn’t always come so easily. And the feeling of your lungs begging for air is nothing less than terrifying.
I used to have a pretty serious problem with my asthma, and when I was young it was so bad that I had a nebulizer that I had to use almost daily in addition to a rescue inhaler. I was hospitalized several times for it, and between the hospital meds and the home meds, I don’t even want to think about what kind of poisons I pumped in to my body daily. I don’t even remember most of them (though I do know my mother was smart enough to keep me off steroids) except for my last inhaler, which I used from high school until this past year: Albuterol.
Albuterol is a bronchodilator, not a steroid, though it performs the same task of relaxing the bronchial muscles during an asthma attack. While it doesn’t come with quite as serious side effects, it does present certain risks. Immediate side effects include headache, dizziness, quickened or erratic heartbeat, nausea, sore throat, dry mouth, muscle pain or weakness, and diarrhea – all of which I remember vividly and dreaded each time I had an asthma attack. Long term side effects include long-lasting muscle tremors, nervousness, high blood pressure, and low potassium (which can cause confusion, uneven heart rate, extreme thirst, increased urination, leg discomfort, and muscle weakness). The worst for me were the heart palpitations and muscle tremors. I still have a problem with leg cramps at night, and I’m starting to wonder if that is a result of almost 20 years of constant inhaler use.
Steroids are much worse, and I thank the powers that be everyday that my mother had the sense to keep them away from me. The risk of adverse effects is much higher in children, and even short term use may cause mood swings and increased hunger; steroids also decrease immune function, especially against the virus that causes chickenpox. Long term use of steroids can lead to a rounded face, insatiable hunger, insomnia, depression or mood swings, heartburn and indigestion, increased bruising, osteoporosis and stunted growth in children, increased risk of diabetes, and increased risk of cataracts. With so many natural -and safer – options available, it seems ridiculous to me that anyone would choose steroids for asthma treatment, especially for a child.
If you want to research your specific asthma medication, check out Drugs.com’s list of asthma meds.
My doctor always told me that the best medicine for controlling asthma is exercise, and I wholeheartedly believe that. Lungs, like any muscle, can be strengthened with proper exercise, so any kind of aerobic workout – swimming, jogging, Zumba, etc. – is ideal for asthmatics. Switching to natural, safer cleaners can also make a difference, as many household cleaners are full of pretty awful chemicals that can exacerbate asthma symptoms. There are also a lot of herbs that support respiratory health, including mullein, lobelia, comfrey, boswellia, and slippery elm bark, to name a few. (For a more complete list of herbal remedies, check out DHerbs or the University of MD Medical Center.) While I don’t completely trust New Chapter now that they’re owned by Proctor & Gamble, their line of mushroom LifeShield supplements used to be one of the most effective natural treatement options, and their LifeShield Breathe is definitely worth a shot – if you’re willing to give your money to P&G, that is.
When I made the decision to throw out my prescription inhaler, i debated for a while over which natural route to take. Herbal supplements, while effective, are expensive, and I have a hard time remembering to take vitamins everyday. I believe I’m in pretty good overall health anyway – I eat well and I bike 8 miles to and from work everyday – so I decided to skip straight to a rescue inhaler. I use my inhaler once every month or two at most, usually because of pet allergies or cold weather. But the inability to catch your breath is frightening enough that I cannot go without an inhaler. From what I could find while doing my research, there is no holistic inhaler besides a few homeopathic sprays. There are, however, many aromatherapy inhalers, a topic I’m not extremely knowledgeable in but definitely curious about. I did some research, and I found that there are a number of essential oils that can ease asthma symptoms. The ones that came up most often were lavendar, eucaplyptus, pine or cedarwood, mint, and sage. (More inclusive lists can be found on DHerbs and AltMD.) At the natural food store where I used to work, we carried a brand called Aromabar, and I used the testers frequently for everything from a stuffy nose to a headache, always with good results. They are a little pricey, so I looked around online for a cheaper option and stumbled upon Earth Solutions. While their packaging is a little funky looking (I think they have five-year-olds draw their labels…) their Breathe Easy aromatherapy inhaler has all the top herbs for asthma relief: eucalyptus, peppermint, pine, lavendar, cedarwood, and helichrysum (part of the sunflower family). And it works! After a major puppy-induced sneeze attack the other night, I was unable to catch my breath, and a few minutes of deep breathing with the inhaler under my nose eased my lungs significantly.
So, thanks again to the power of Mother Earth, I’ve removed one more of Big Pharma’s toxic thorns from my body. And I hope that, through a healthy diet, a healthy lifestyle, and the healing power of herbs, others can do the same. Breath is simply too important to put in the hands of anyone but your Mother!