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Holistic Approaches to Asthma

Written by Lawrence Palevsky, M.D   
Tuesday, 07 October 2008 10:12
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Asthma is a common word in many households. A growing number of children live on beta-2 agonists, steroids and anti-leukotriene medications that treat the acute and chronic symptoms of asthma. These medications have helped save many lives. However, these medicines, unfortunately, do not cure the asthmatic condition. They merely serve to quiet the visible expression of symptoms.

Medicines do not influence the factors that generate the imbalances in the body causing the onset of wheezing. The imbalances that trigger the symptoms of asthma persist despite the use of medication and the relief of symptoms. These imbalances arise mostly from problems within the child's immune system. The key to treatment lies in the evaluation of the underlying factors that contribute to the development and expression of asthma symptoms. The goal is to assess the imbalances and address their causes.

Asthma is defined as a reversible, chronic, obstructive, airway disease. On clinical exam, a child with asthma is found to be wheezing and coughing. Often there is difficulty breathing, labored breathing, poor air movement, shortness of breath and irritability. Occasionally, a child may be pale or have blue lips. In the worst case scenario there is somnolence or coma. However, the lungs are rarely involved. Rather, the smooth muscles of the affected airways are in spasm and there is swelling and inflammation of the lining of the airways.

An important segment of our immune system is found in the lining of the airways. Significant portions of the immune system are found in the linings of the digestive tract, the skin and the nervous system, including the brain. The body obtains its major protection against the outside world from the proper functioning of these four areas of the immune system. All parts of the immune system are in constant communication with each other. An acute asthma episode is triggered by a challenge to the immune system at one, several or all four of these areas of the body.

In a healthy child, when the immune system is stressed, chemicals are released that produce inflammation. These chemicals are made by immune cells that migrate to the site(s) where the body is challenged. Redness, heat or fever, swelling, tenderness and loss of function are the five signs and symptoms of inflammation that are clinically present, either singularly or in combination. By the end of the inflammatory process another group of immune cells begins to produce chemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties. These anti-inflammatory chemicals aid in quieting the area of inflammation. As a result, the symptoms of inflammation begin to resolve. The body, in the ideal situation, is genetically programmed to heal itself.

The resolution of symptoms during an inflammatory response is dependent on the delicate balance between the production and activation of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory immune chemicals. An acute episode of asthma occurs when this delicate balance is tested.

Thus, asthma is a condition of acute and chronic inflammation. The goal of treatment is to evaluate any one of a number of contributing factors in a child's environment that can produce a state of inflammation. Perfumes, smoke, pollen, volatile chemicals, exhaust fumes, pollution, animal dander, metals, dust and mold are some of the inhalants that can adversely affect the immune response in the linings of the airways and trigger an episode of wheezing. Dairy, soy, nuts, sugars, dehydration, processed flours and grains, processed fats, fried oils, nutritional deficiencies, food dyes, chemicals, preservatives and additives, metals, soda, junk food, fast foods and certain prescription drugs and over the counter medicines can instigate an inflammatory response in many parts of the body especially in the airways of children who are prone to wheezing.