At any given time, roughly 25 million Americans are living with asthma. Most of the time it presents as a chronic condition that causes swelling of the airway, making it difficult to circulate oxygen in the body. During asthma attacks, smooth muscle that surrounds the bronchi and bronchioles contract and further shrink these tiny air passages. In addition, the mucosa lining inside the tubes become more inflamed and thus produce greater amounts of mucus within the lungs. This reaction can lead to life-threatening clogging of airways.
This type of inflammation of the bronchial tubes can make it more difficult to exhale than inhale. This can result in a process called hyperinflation, where too much oxygen resides inside the lungs and causes a supply deprivation of oxygen to organs and tissues.
Sounds pretty scary, huh?
Well, perspective is everything. What we have to remember is that any type of inflammation - asthma included - happens for a reason. And it turns out that the way we address the underlying root cause actually dictates the success we will have in treating the problem.
Quick look at Asthma:
Most common presenting symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Poor oxygen saturation (blue lips, etc.)
- Chest tightness
Asthma is a condition that affects both adults and children, and while mainstream treatments focus on addressing the inflammation-rooted symptoms, true success is most often found by focusing on the cause of that inflammation.
The disease is classified into four subgroups based upon the severity of each person’s case.
Those subgroups include:
- Mild Intermittent - Mild symptoms up to two days a week and up to two nights a month
- Mild Persistent - Symptoms more than twice a week, but no more than once in a single day
- Moderate Persistent - Symptoms once a day and more than one night a week
- Severe Persistent - Symptoms throughout the day on most days and frequently at night
One thing to keep in mind is that conventional classifications become much less significant (and thankfully so) when you have a proper assessment of what is causing the periodic spikes in inflammation.
(Conventional treatment consists most commonly of inhaled medications.)
Symptoms of Asthma
Many individuals are not aware of their asthma status if their symptoms are not severe. However, that does not mean their condition status shouldn’t be a concern. As stated above, there is a spectrum of severity, and any form of asthma can be deadly if not treated.
Common signs of asthma include:
- Coughing (especially at night, or during exercise)
- Trouble breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
With a prevalence of 1 in 13 individuals having asthma, several risk factors increase the likelihood of people developing the disease in their lifetime. Therefore, it is imperative for people who have a higher chance of forming the condition to take preventative and monitoring steps to protect their overall health.
(Regular coughing and wheezing can be a sign of asthma.)
Risk Factors and Causes of Asthma
- Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis (hay fever), autoimmune disease
- Having a poor diet, full of highly processed and chemically-laden foods
- Being overweight
- Being a smoker (or even exposure to secondhand smoke)
- Having concurrent problems like food sensitivities and gut problems
- Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
- Exposure to occupational/environmental triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing, and manufacturing
If you are concerned about your asthma status, we at Hill Functional Wellness can help determine your underlying cause. By gaining perspective through the analysis of various tests, we can outline a plan of prevention through personalized nutrition and lifestyle optimization. More on that in a bit.
The Effects of Asthma
When airway restriction becomes severe enough, and is present in a person's life for a long enough time, adverse effects can arise.
The first area of concern is in what's called oxygen saturation. Oxygen saturation is measured as a percentage (100 being maximum, but most healthy individuals should be in the 96-99 range) and it is a measurement of the amount of oxygenated hemoglobin as compared to the total amount of hemoglobin in the blood. The body tightly regulates this percentage in order to adequately bring oxygen to all tissues.
When a person develops asthma, the ability to breathe in oxygen-rich air into the lungs is restricted, which in turn decreases the body's available oxygen for uptake by hemoglobin.
As you can imagine, oxygen restriction of tissue in the body is not a good thing. It is not good in small bouts, but it is even worse when it becomes a chronic problem. Here is a short list of long-term effects found in human adolescents and adults:
- more common upper respiratory infection due to increased mucous production
- poor sleep quality
- higher incidence of depression
- cardiovascular disease from rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure
- airway remodeling
Medical Treatment of Asthma
By far the most common treatment for asthma in the medical community is inhaled corticosteroid medications (aka 'inhalers'). But before getting to that point, a doctor will typically conduct a few tests to understand more about the impending diagnosis.
To determine the severity of the individual case you might be given one or both of these tests:
- Spirometry - Estimates the narrowing of bronchial tubes by examining how much air you can exhale after a deep breath and how fast you can breathe outward.
- Peak Flow - Measures how hard you can breathe out.
But remember, this only tells us the extent of the physical manifestation of the issue. These physical responses are determined by inflammatory responses within the body - and this is what we will uncover at our office.
In the traditional medical treatment, most diagnoses lead down the same path - management through the use of inhalers - and it leaves much to be desired for many patients over the course of their diagnosis.
How We Functionally Treat An Asthma-Related Case
A good starting point for treating your asthmatic condition is identifying and minimizing your known triggers as much as possible. This may vary from person to person, but can be assessed through proper investigation.
Asthma-related symptoms and attacks often stem from a person’s negative reaction to an environmental allergen like ragweed, mold, or smoke. Exposure to regular workplace irritants like chemical fumes or dust can also trigger the inflammatory response. Determining what provokes your asthma, and then understanding what can be done to minimize those situations would be a great additional first step in treating your case.
Taking it a step further and pairing these symptoms with comprehensive lab analysis to understand your individual inflammatory markers is what really makes the difference. This is true for many, many health issues, but is especially true for asthma.
After understanding what makes you unique, we can then formulate a personalized plan to address the root cause of your asthma. Suggestions for prevention or reversal might include diet optimization, exercise, and supplementation to increase critical nutrients for your specific needs.
Final Thoughts About Asthma
Always keep in mind that context is important when addressing an individual case of asthma. Some cases are straightforward, with one or two primary 'triggers' that can easily be avoided or eliminated. But in some cases, the respiratory inflammation is less overt in nature and can require more in-depth analysis and intervention to see resolution.
This individuality in the analysis and treatment process is what has been lost in our current healthcare landscape, and it is the variable that our patients have most appreciated on their journeys here with us.
Contact us today to let us know if you are struggling with these types of asthma-related concerns, and we will do our very best to help you find a solution.