Why You Shouldn't Love Your Inhaler
Are There Natural Alternatives to Asthma Inhalers?
While you shouldn't throw out your rescue inhaler, you shouldn't use asthma inhalers on a regular basis if you can find effective natural ways to prevent asthma attacks, argues the author of this guest article.
Note: This article on natural alternatives to asthma inhalers has been provided by a guest author. It reflects the author's opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinion of HealWithFood.org. Always consult your physician or a qualified healthcare professional before changing your treatment in any way.
Which sounds better to you — spending days drugged up on Tylenol and Vaporub to blunt out the painful symptoms of a cold, or never getting the cold in the first place?
Obviously, the better choice is never getting the cold to begin with — which is why almost everyone takes basic precautionary measures like washing their hands frequently and getting enough vitamin C. Yet when it comes to asthma, many people think nothing of relying on inhalers as their primary way of dealing with the disease.
But relying on an inhaler to control asthma may be no better than choosing a long-lasting relationship with the Tylenol bottle over preventing the cold. Even so-called 'preventative,' or daily, inhalers control the symptoms of asthma — not the cause. They soothe constriction and inflammation in the airways of your lungs (the cause of that struggling-for-air feeling), but they can't stop the triggers that irritate your lungs and make them constrict in the first place.
Like any medication, inhalers carry the possibility of side effects. Problems to watch out for when using an inhaler include throat infections, headaches, nausea, and racing, overactive hearts.
But the most dangerous risks are caused by long-term use and overuse of inhalers — which, if you're relying on an inhaler as your main asthma control method, you may be doing. Long-acting inhalers can make attacks more seldom, but more severe when they do occur. Improper or excessive use over time can cause serious cardiovascular problems: a 2006 Wake Forest University study linked daily inhaler use to heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular deaths. Weakened bones and osteoporosis are also linked to inhaler use.
Worried about the earth? Inhalers have even been connected to the destruction of the ozone layer: the FDA is banning the over-the-counter Primatene Mist inhaler because it contains CFCs, ozone-destroying chemicals that have been banned from hairsprays and other spray products for years. Other asthma medications have been deemed "less harmful" — not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Plus, there are the social challenges of keeping an inhaler on hand 24/7. One boy told the story of being forced to use a breathing machine for the first 15 minutes of recess every day. He figured out that if he loosened its container, the medicine would leak out of the machine, and he'd be able to go play with the other kids faster.
That's not exactly effective for your kid's health or for all the money you're spending on wasted medicine. Instead of fighting with a miserable kid, why not avoid the problem to begin with?
So what are the alternatives?
The key to effective asthma control is cutting down on your exposure to triggers and creating a happier, more in-balance body. The first step is figuring out you or your child's personal asthma triggers.
Poor air quality is obviously the most important cause of asthma attacks. The EPA warns parents that indoor air quality is often much worse than outdoor air quality. Why? Your house traps dust, mold, insect traces, and other irritating air particles. Plus, many modern building materials and furniture contain harmful chemicals that make their way into the air. But if you live in an urban area, smog and air pollution means that outdoor air quality may not be much better; in rural areas, pollen, mold and decomposing vegetation are also dangerous for asthmatic people.
You can't control the outdoors, and making changes in schools or the workplace takes time. But you can improve home air quality. Vacuum, dust, and do laundry regularly (but ideally, not with the asthmatic family member in the room!). Keep an eye out for spots that are regularly damp, like basements and bathrooms, where mold can fester. Scrub those clean and dry them out as much as possible.
An air purifier will capture those irritating particles that you can't clean by hand. Look for air purifiers recommended for asthma with real HEPA filters. A good room to put the air purifier in is the bedroom — the place where most people spend the majority of their time.
When planning outdoor activities, aim for days when air quality indexes and pollen counts are favorable — most weather reports will contain this information.
Diet and food allergies are also common causes of asthma, but they don't occur to many people. Many asthmatic people react badly to dairy, eggs, and artificial preservatives. On the flip side, lung function can improve when you consume more certain nutrients and foods. HealWithFood.org has the full scoop on what foods can help you control asthma, plus great recipes to make eating those foods easier.
Alternative breathing techniques are another tool that many people have used to control asthma without an inhaler. Yoga is a great way to build lung strength and control; at the very least, it offers a form of exercise that you can engage in without stressing your lungs the way running exercise does. Other techniques, like the Buteyko breathing method, are exercises that anyone can learn to do. While the science backing up methods like Buteyko is shaky, many people report success using them as part of their health routine; you have to learn what works best for you yourself.
While you shouldn't throw out your rescue inhaler — none of these techniques will be able to help you in the event of an emergency — you shouldn't use inhalers on a regular basis, and it's a bad idea to wait for asthma symptoms to appear before fighting them. Figure out how to improve your air quality, diet, and breathing patterns, and you'll be able to keep your asthma in check much more effectively, healthily, and naturally.