Family Health Guide

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Asthma: Complementary/Alternative Treatments

Because asthma is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease that usually requires conventional medication, and because many alternative treatments like herbs and supplements are not well-regulated, have side effects and interact with medications, you should not use them without consulting your doctor. However, some complementary “treatments” -- like breathing exercises, yoga for relaxation, and a good diet -- are healthy and beneficial to all children, not just those with asthma. Here are a few to try:

  • Feed your child more fruits and vegetables. These foods contain antioxidants that boost the immune system. Since asthma may be an immune disorder, this is key -- and a healthy immune system can better fight off colds and viruses that can trigger attacks.
  • Eat more foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists believe Omega-3s help the body reduce inflammation. Fish high in fatty acids are a good source (if you can get your kids to eat them). Try this tot-friendly recipe: salmon patties.
  • Reduce your child’s intake of foods high in saturated fat. Research indicates that high-fat foods increase inflammation in the body. They can also lead to obesity, which has been linked to asthma.
  • Avoid foods that have caused allergic symptoms in your child. This one’s a no-brainer.
  • Avoid foods with certain preservatives. Some artificial sweeteners (like Aspartame) and food additives (like sulfites) may cause reactions in some children.
  • In some cases, give up dairy. For some children, milk products make asthma worse by increasing mucus production. You may want to eliminate milk products for a trial period to see if it helps. If you do cut milk products out of your child’s diet, make sure she’s getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D from other sources, like calcium-fortified OJ or soy milk.
  • Keep your child active. Don’t make your child give up exercise and outdoor play, because aerobic activity increases lung capacity and reduces a child’s risk of obesity. Consider allergy shots or alternatives like heading to an indoor playspace when pollen or weather conditions make outdoor activity too risky.
  • Try yoga breathing techniques. Yoga can help with stress, a trigger for intrinsic asthma, and may help improve breathing for some children. Try a fun family yoga class.

Lifestyle Tips
Here are some simple at-home adjustments that you can make to keep asthma in check.

  • “Asthma-proof” your child’s room. Get rid of rugs, carpet and dusty curtains in favor of wooden floors and washable blinds or curtains. Use dust-proof pillow and mattress covers. While some docs recommend you say no to stuffed animals, parents (and their kids!) naturally balk at that suggestion. A reasonable alternative is to keep fuzzy friends out of bed and away from your child’s face while he’s sleeping. (You can also tumble them regularly in the dryer to remove dust.) Vacuum and dust the room frequently, and wash sheets and pillowcases weekly in 130-degree water to kill dust mites.
  • Keep indoor air clean. Use your air conditioner during pollen season even when it’s not hot outside. Change the filters for your air conditioner and furnace frequently, and have them serviced annually to avoid buildup of dust, pollen or mold in the system. Keep the humidity levels low to reduce mold.
  • Control pet dander. Again, lots of docs may recommend that you get rid of the family cat or dog, but depending on the severity of your child’s asthma, there are options. Keep pets groomed frequently (but don’t let your asthmatic child wash or brush them) and keep them out of your child’s room and off the furniture as much as possible. If you don’t have a pet and are considering one, remember that dogs trigger fewer allergies than cats, and certain breeds are less allergenic than others. (The Obamas supposedly selected a Portuguese Water Dog because the breed, which doesn’t shed much, is better for children with allergies.)