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Asthma and Allergy Awareness

Asthma affects as many as four hundred thousand people in this country alone, and Ireland has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the world. The month of May marks the beginning of the peak season for asthma and allergy sufferers, and has therefore been designated Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.
The tendency to develop asthma is genetic, but the disease itself is usually precipitated by environmental influences.  The environment we live in and the stressors we are exposed to have changed a great deal in recent years, and this has caused more and more people to develop the condition. Factors which can adversely affect the development of the immune system in early childhood, such as excessive use of antibacterial cleaning products, frequent courses of antibiotics, and vaccinations given when the child is unwell, may increase the risk of asthma in later life.  Other triggering factors include anxiety, infection, allergies, pollution, frequent use of certain drugs such as paracetamol, poor diet and excessive salt intake.

Asthma sufferers develop hypersensitivity of the lungs, which causes spasmodic constriction of the bronchi and production of excess mucus. This leads to a sense of constriction in the lungs with wheezing and coughing. Research has revealed that many people with asthma find it difficult to control their symptoms.  More than half of all sufferers regularly experience problems during the day due to coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, and more than a quarter suffer from sleep disturbance. More than 40% of children with asthma regularly have to take time off school and 20% of adults miss days at work due to the illness.

However with the right treatment it is possible to effectively control the symptoms of asthma.  Medical herbalists take a holistic approach to treatment and provide individually tailored prescriptions, which combine a number of different herbs. For example, antispasmodic and broncho-dilating herbs such as lobelia help to reduce constriction and wheezing, anticatarrhal and expectorant herbs such as elecampane deal with excess mucus production, while antimicrobial herbs such as thyme help to treat infections and reduce the need for antibiotics. Coughing can be reduced with herbs such as coltsfoot, and antiallergy herbs such as nettle are also helpful.

If you suffer from asthma, it is important to avoid foods which commonly cause allergic reactions, such as dairy products, wheat, eggs, and nuts. It is also helpful to avoid foods that are high in histamine, such as tomatoes, red-skinned berries, citrus fruits, fermented foods and preserved meats. However, it is important to eat plenty of other fresh fruits and vegetables since studies have shown that high antioxidant diets can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma and allergy symptoms.

Reduce exposure to airborne irritants such as dust, animal hair, traffic fumes and cigarette smoke, and avoid excessive use of medicines such as paracetamol and antibiotics unless absolutely necessary.  Ensure the diet includes plenty of oily fish and fresh fruit and vegetables and take a good quality supplement which contains antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Probiotics, particularly those  containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium infantis, have also been shown to reduce allergic conditions such as asthma