Verve. Asthma ventilator in action. 220507. Picture: Chris Collingridge 042

It is now estimated that 235 million people of all ages, and all ethnic backgrounds, suffer from asthma globally. The burden of this disease is substantial to governments, health care systems, families and patients. Appropriate lifestyle modifications will not only prevent asthma but will also reduce its occurrence and improve quality of life.

It is estimated that the effects of asthma account for one in every 250 deaths worldwide. Many of the deaths are preventable and treatable by improving access to healthcare services and avoiding the most common triggers.

Education and public awareness is the first line of defence to save millions of lives.

This devastating condition is becoming much more common in all ages but the greatest increase has been seen in children. Asthma occurs in all countries regardless of the level of development but over 80% of asthma deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries according to the World Health Organization (WHO).



What is asthma?

Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases, characterised by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing caused by narrowing of the airways. This reduces vital airflow in and out of the lungs and can have immediate effects on the brain and organs.

Recurrent asthma symptoms frequently cause sleeplessness, daytime fatigue, reduced activity levels and increased absenteeism. Historically, medication is the most common way of treating asthma but avoiding specific asthma triggers is the best solution.



What triggers asthma?

Everyone is different. One person that is exposed to certain environmental factors will respond differently than another. One’s response goes far beyond just genetics, but also encompasses all lifestyle related factors. Previous and current health conditions, one’s diet and physical fitness level and other lifestyle factors play a significant role in the prevention and management of asthma.

The strongest risk factors are a combination of genetic predispositions and exposures to environmental toxins. These toxins can provoke an asthma attack through allergic reactions that can cause narrowing of airways.

Over exposure to the following can increase the risk of developing asthma according to WHO:

* indoor allergens (for example, house dust mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, pollution and pet dander)

* outdoor allergens (such as pollens and moulds)

* tobacco smoke

* chemical irritants in the workplace

* air pollution

The most common asthma triggers can be found in daily life and commonly cannot be avoided. Physical, chemical and even emotional stressors such as anger, anxiety and fear can trigger an asthma attack.

The good news – a healthy lifestyle will improve how your body is able to respond to the daily onslaught. An improved response will reduce the risk of developing an attack.

A proactive plan is needed to prevent all health conditions as their treatments can be common causes of asthma. Medications such as aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and even drugs that treat high blood pressure and heart conditions has been found to trigger asthma.



Vitamin D and asthma

Increasing one’s vitamin D can significantly improve asthma according to recent research published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Researchers found that vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased airway reactivity, lower lung functions and worse asthma control.

Vitamin D supplementation may improve asthma control by blocking inflammation in the airways and lungs. Inflammation is the leading cause of airway constriction and asthma.

Vitamin D is often called “the sunshine vitamin” because our bodies make it when we are exposed to sunlight but it is also available in food. Vitamin D rich foods include:

* Fish such as tuna fish, salmon, mackerel and sardines

* Eggs

* Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt



Omega-3 and asthma

Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation may underlie the origin of many diseases, including asthma. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet will not necessarily improve your symptoms, but a diet deficient in omega-3 fatty acids is likely to worsen them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many of the same fish as vitamin D. Salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring all have high amounts of omega-3. Walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and many other seeds and nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

These nutrients should not take the place of medications necessarily. As asthma is a serious health condition, consult with your healthcare professional for specific recommendations.



Tobacco and asthma

Tobacco smoke is unhealthy for everyone, including people with asthma. Quitting smoking is one of the most important ways to prevent and treat asthma. Secondhand smoke is created by a smoker and breathed in by another. If you have asthma, people should never smoke near you.

Outdoor air pollution can also trigger an asthma attack. This pollution can come from factories, cars, and other sources such as the smoke from burning wood, plants and rubbish.



Common in-home threats

Dust mites are tiny bugs that are found in your bedding. One of the best ways to prevent mite-induced asthma attacks is to use a mattress cover and pillowcases to make a barrier between you and your bedding. To kill mites, wash your bedding frequently with the hottest water setting.

Mould is one the most hazardous household substances for people with asthma. It is commonly caused by water leaks in one’s ceiling, walls, bathroom or kitchen. One should look for possible mouldy areas and take corrective steps to ensure your home and workplace is mould-free.



3 take-away asthma tips

Tip 1: Identify symptoms

If you have unexplained breathlessness, wheezing or tightness in the chest – consult with your healthcare professional right away.

Tip 2: Take asthma seriously

Asthma can be fatal. It is important to identify if you have the common lifestyle and environmental triggers for asthma. The most effective treatment is not relying on the short-term use of medication but identifying the underlying causes and eliminating them.

Tip 3: Have a plan

A comprehensive lifestyle plan is needed to prevent or effectively manage asthma. Are you getting natural sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids? Are you engaging in physical fitness and activities that will promote a strong immune system? Can you reduce physical, mental and emotional stress in your life?


Planning is the best way to control and prevent the devastating effects of asthma. Medication is not the only answer. It is important to avoid the most common asthma triggers and implement a diet and lifestyle that is known to reduce one’s risk.


* This column is directed by your questions, comments and inquiries. The health advice provided is in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of prevention, maintenance and natural treatment of disease. The advice is for educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect endorsement.


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