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What are Some Treatments for Asthma?

Asthma is the most common form of chronic pulmonary disorder in the united States. While it impacts up to five percent of the total population, it most frequently occurs in children under 10 years of age. Characterized by intermittent spasms of the smooth muscle surrounding bronchial tubes, shortness of breath, and chronic cough, asthma is classified as an inflammatory disease. Since approximately 5,000 Americans die from asthma-induced respiratory failure each year, it is imperative to do everything possible to prevent attacks. To that end, it’s important to know what treatments for asthma are available to help manage symptoms.

However, treatments for asthma may differ depending on whether the condition is extrinsic (or atopic) or intrinsic. The former is an allergic disorder in which elevated blood levels of the IgE antibody are present. It is usually triggered by food allergies, exposure to dust, animal dander, pollen, or mold spores. Intrinsic asthma, on the other hand, occurs in response to physical irritants, such as breathing very cold air or chemical fumes. Although, physical exertion, emotional distress, or even laughing very hard can also promote an attack.

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It’s important to note that both types of asthma share common mechanisms, such as the inflammation of specialized cells called mast cells, lymphocytes, and eosinophils. In response to a foreign allergen or irritant, these cells release histamine and leukotrienes, inflammatory mediators that bind to cell receptors in the bronchial tubes. This activity results in the constriction of bronchial smooth muscle, which traps air in the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs and restricts oxygen intake. In addition, adrenal function may become suppressed during an asthma attack, which means that fewer levels of the hormones cortisol and epinephrine are available to stimulate beta-2 receptors in bronchial tissue in order to relax airways.

Conventional treatments for asthma typically involve medications to inhibit the severity and frequency of the above reactions. Inhaled corticosteroids, such as fluticasone and budesonide, are designed to open airways by relaxing bronchial smooth muscle, but without the added risks from taking oral corticosteroids. Other bronchodilators include long-acting beta-2 agonists (LABAs), such as formoterol and salmeterol, and are usually used in conjunction with inhaled corticosteroids. Other drug treatments for asthma are leukotriene modifiers, including zafirlukast and montelukast (Singulair®). For allergy-induced asthma, nedocromil (Tilade®) is one of the oral treatments recommended for asthma.

There are also nutritional treatments for asthma. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids, most notably eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), restrict leukotriene synthesis from the form most responsible for causing inflammatory response (4-series) to the lesser form (5-series). In fact, omega-3 supplementation is well documented in the medical literature as a beneficial supplement to treat asthma. However, fish oil, from which omega-3 is derived, has also been associated with elevating symptoms in patients prone to aspirin-induced asthma. Therefore, omega-3 supplementation may not be suitable for individuals with aspirin sensitivity.

It’s also worth noting that asthma patients tend to be deficient in magnesium and selenium. This is significant since magnesium resides in the airway passage lining. Studies with asthmatic children have found that supplementing with this mineral may improve symptoms and reduce the need for inhalers. In terms of selenium, this mineral is necessary for the body to manufacture glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme that naturally decreases the production of leukotrienes.

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