Bronchial Asthma is a reversible, chronic inflammatory disease of the airways, which leads to recurrent episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, tightness of the chest and cough, which is particularly prevalent at night or early morning. The condition causes the airway lining to become swollen and inflamed, the smooth muscle tightens, and often leads to the production of thick, sticky mucous - causing the airways to become narrow, thus making breathing difficult.
For many, symptoms occur when an acute ‘attack’ is triggered via an allergen, exercise (especially in cold, dry weather), or through an upper respiratory infection. The cause is complex, involving genetic and environmental interactions, and is not fully understood. Symptoms of an attack include: a non–productive cough, tightening within the chest, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing fits, difficulty filling the lungs/expectorating mucus, rapid heart rate, and also sweating.
During an asthma episode/attack, airflow to the lungs is obstructed by oedema and congestion within the respiratory tracts. This then causes a narrowing of the airway, preventing the ability to exhale the required volume of air out of the lungs. As such, an amount of residual air remains, which then prevents fresh air entering the lungs upon inhalation. From this, the bronchioles become inflamed and the mucus coating the airways thickens, which in turn narrows the airways even further. The respiratory tracts can subsequently narrow further through the hypertrophy of the muscle walls. The diaphragm and intercostal muscles weaken, and the shoulder muscles, scapula muscles, and neck muscles also stiffen.
The severity of an asthma attack or episode may differ with each occurrence, and from person to person. For some, it can be life threatening. Chronic reoccurrences can lead to permanent damage to the lungs.
- Acute asthma: seen as the sudden attack caused by an inflammation of the air sacs of the lungs, which then leads to the narrowing and contraction of the bronchioles.
- Chronic asthma: characterised through frequent attacks which require medical management.
- Exercise-induced asthma: triggered via exercise, which is then characterised by coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing.
Individuals who have a parent/sibling with the condition, may be more likely to be affected.
Common triggers can include:
- Allergens: Pollen, grass, indoor and outdoor mould, pet/animal dander, dust mites, dust and cockroaches.
- Irritants: Cold air, sudden changes in weather, pollutants, cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, odours from cooking, scented products.
- Diet: Junk food, fast foods, dried fruits, processed potatoes, beer, wine with sulphites, preservatives and additives, processed food diets, GERD.
- Others: Aspirin, beta-blockers, crying, laughing hard, emotions e.g. fear, grief or anger, physical exercise, stress.
There is no medication that can fully cure the condition. However, there are are two classes of asthma medications: quick-relief (e.g. inhaled bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories) and long-term control medications. Inhaled bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories are generally prescribed for relieving occasional mild asthma. Bronchodilators work by opening up or dilating constricted airways, while anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation.
Ayurvedic Approach to Asthma (Swasa Rog):
Asthma is quite well documented and described in the ancient Ayurvedic texts. In the ancient Sanskrit language, asthma is known as ‘svasa roga’. Svasa refers to breathing in and out, and roga means refers to disease.
Ayurveda considers asthma a systemic condition, which is characterised by the blockage of prana (life force), which in more severe case can be life-threatening. If prana is unable to enter the body, the systems of the body cannot function properly (or at all), and which can cause fear, anxiety and may potentially lead to death.
According to the ancient Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita, the etiological factors are quite similar to those as seen from a modern perspective - dust, smoke, wind, cold weather are listed. However, Ayurveda also places much emphasis on diet and dietary habits, and the mind – which include, walk/exercise beyond one’s capacity, imbalanced metabolism, dryness of/within the body, improper food combinations, habitual intake of unhealthy (and processed) foods, intake of food in excessive/deficient quantities, intake of heavy/dense foods, certain types of meat, unboiled milk and curds, Kapha aggravating foods, and improper use of the senses. Of all the factors, Ayurveda lists a poor diet causing weakened digestion and the creation of ama (toxic build-up)in the body to be a foundational cause, which many other tcauses can stem from.
Following Ayurvedic philosophy and practice, all individuals, and their conditions are seen as individual. Hence it is paramount to understand the different characteristics, which then manifest according to Vata type, Pitta type, and Kapha type symptoms.
- Vata Type Asthma: presents with symptoms such as dryness and wheezing, thirst, dry mouth, dry skin, constipation, anxiety, and the craving of warm drinks. Vata type attacks occur mostly at dawn and dusk.
- Pitta Type Asthma: presents with coughing and/or wheezing with yellow phlegm. There can also be fever, sweating, irritability, a need for cold /cool air. Attacks occur during mostly at noon and midnight.
- Kapha Type Asthma: presents with coughing and wheezing with abundant white/clear phlegm/mucous. There can be a railing sound produced by fluid in the lungs, in place of wheezing. Attacks occur mostly in the morning and evening.
BENEFICIAL AYURVEDIC HERBS FOR ASTHMA:
Vata Pitta Balancing: Turmeric, Licorice, Punarnava, Sitopaldi, Tulsi, Bhibitaki
Vata Kapha Balancing: Ginger, Turmeric, Pippali, Cinnamon, Punarnava, Pushkarmoola, Tulsi, Bhiibitaki, Ashwaganda
Pitta Vata Balancing: Turmeric, Licorice, Punarnava, Sitopaldi, Tulsi, Bhibitaki
Pitta Kapha Balancing: Turmeric, Punarnava, Tulsi, Bhibitaki, Musta
Kapha Vata Balancing: Ginger, Turmeric, Pippali, Cinnamon, Black pepper, Punarnava, Pushkarmoola, Tulsi, Bhibitaki, Ashwaganda
Kapha Pitta Balancing: Turmeric, Punarnava, Tulsi, Bhibitaki, Musta
Traditional Ayurvedic Treatment(s) for Asthma:
Ayurvedic treatment approach(es) for asthma are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual, the current imbalances, their age, strength, severity of the condition, and if other conditions are also present. Treatment approaches can include:
- Panchakarma detox treatments (when deemed appropriate)
- Avoid causative factors
- Balance Jataragni (digestive fire) and digestion
- Remove Ama (toxins within the digestive tract/body)
- Balance doshic imbalances through diet/lifestyle/herbs
- Intake of clean wholefoods, with organic food as much as possible
- Build immunity
- Oil bastis if required to balance Vata
General Ayurvedic Nutritional Guidelines for Asthma:
Ayurvedic nutritional approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. One should eat compatible foods, and in accordance to one's imbalances. Some additional general guidelines include:
- One should eat the foods that one does not react to.
- One should eat according to the digestive capacity. As a guide, eat to fill the stomach 1/3 with solid food, 1/3 with liquid and leaving 1/3 empty to allow room for digestive secretions in the stomach.
- One should eat at regular times/intervals.
- One should eat wholegrains and non-processed foods.
- Foods to avoid: Cold foods, raw foods, leftover foods (24 hours), frozen foods, cold water, processed and packaged foods, soft drinks, high fat foods, greasy foods. Minimise the intake of sour and hot chilli type foods.
- Avoid excessive consumption of bread, pasta, pizza, cheese, milk and other foods that aggravate excess phlegm and congestion.
- One should avoid overeating. Allow 6 hours between meals and snack 3 hours after a meal, and eat only if hungry.
- Breakfast should be easy to digest, lunch the main meal, and dinner should be lighter than lunch.
- Avoid all dairy products except for buttermilk.
- Eat 2-3 fruits per day. Avoid watery fruits.
- Eat home cooked meals, preferably made on the same day as being prepared.
- Use all of the five senses at mealtimes. Savour the food that you are eating.
- Eat in a pleasant environment. Eat seated and try to avoid TV and electronic devices whilst eating.
- Eat slowly, eat with respect/reverence for what you are eating, chew thoroughly.
General Ayurvedic Lifestyle Recommendations for Asthma:
Ayurvedic lifestyle approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. Some general guidelines include:
- Use heating during cooler months to keep bedroom warm during night (e.g. oil heater). Do not use fan heating.
- Use a humidifier in the room as needed room. Use steam vaporiser regularly.
- Allow for sufficient rest and sleep. Go to bed at a regular time each day, and best before 10pm. Avoid also sleeping during the day.
- Keep to a routine as much as possible during the day.
- Get sufficient daily activity and exercise, without overdoing exercise. Balanced activity/exercise is healthy, but avoid over-exertion.
- Avoid stress, anxiety, fear and tension. Look at counselling for self-care and working through any stress, anxiety, anger or any other mental health and/or emotional issues.
- Deep breathing for 10 minutes a day is very beneficial. Meditation, yoga and pranayama can also be beneficial.
- Avoid contact with all allergens and be sure to wear protective clothing as needed.
- Avoid large and sudden changes in weather and temperature.
- Make sure to be well rugged up in winter, especially when going outside.
If you have any concerns about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician. See our Ayurvedic Practitioner Services and Consultation Page for more information.