By Dr Risa M. Sloves

Most people have heard of asthma but few realize how serious or life threatening it can be. Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects more than 15 million Americans, including 4 million children, and is one of the leading causes of school and work absences.  Adults with asthma lose over $850 million in lost wages from work and parents with asthmatic children lose over $1 billion by staying home from work to care for their children. 

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness. It affects 5 to 15% of all children and according to a 1996 study by the National Center for Health Statistics asthma rates for children have surged 73% from 1982 to 1994.  One third of patients first experience symptoms in the first year of life, and 80% are diagnosed by the time they are school age.  The condition is the fourth most common reason children visit the emergency room and it is the most frequent admitting diagnosis to children’s hospitals.

When the respiratory system is working properly, the air we breathe passes in and out of the lungs through a network of airways including the trachea (“windpipe”) which then branches into the bronchi , the bronchioles, and finally the alveoli ( the tiny air sacs in the lungs).  Asthma is a respiratory condition caused by an inflammatory response  which causes constriction of the bronchial tubes. When the bronchial tubes are temporarily narrowed or blocked by mucus, breathing becomes difficult.  During an asthma attack the muscles around the airways tighten, the linings of the airways become inflamed and swollen, and the glands produce an increase in this thick mucus causing even further narrowing of the airways.

An asthma attack can be triggered by different types of irritants including allergens such as pollens, dust, molds, foods and food additives, cockroaches, and animals; physiological conditions such as exercise or exposure to cold; and psychogenic stress factors.  Many people who develop asthma often begin with eczema during infancy or early childhood.  Other conditions associated with asthma are chronic bronchitis, chronic sinusitis, chronic allergic rhinitis, and chronic ear infections. 

There are several classic symptoms of an asthma attack.  The first is recurrent wheezing while breathing which may be heard as a whistle that may range from loud to no perceptible wheeze if the patient’s air flow is severely impeded.  The second is a cough, often hacking, that persists.  The next is chest tightness and the last is shortness of breath.  People suffering with asthma feel like they simply cannot take a deep breath and breathing out, exhaling, is especially difficult. The symptoms of coughing and wheezing tend to worsen at night.

The traditional medical treatment for asthma includes the use of bronchodilators, steroids and allergy shots.  Many patients however, find continued use of bronchodilators a necessary way of life since these drugs lose their effectiveness over time requiring patients to take increasing doses of the medication to maintain relief. It is without question that  asthma drugs can save lives; however, as with all medications, there are always adverse effects.  In fact, according to Science News (March 8, 1997), research on approximately 50,000 people in Canada found that prolonged use of inhaled steroids markedly increases a person’s risk of glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness.  New York Times Magazine (March 28, 1993),  discussed two studies conducted in Canada and New Zealand suggesting that asthma patients who rely on inhaled beta-agonist dilators run twice the risk of dying.  By opening airways that are normally constricted in an asthma attack, bronchodialtors might actually expose the lungs to more of the substances that damage them, hurting the asthmatic individual in a downward spiral.  Furthermore, a 1999 study entitled “Antibiotic use in early childhood and the development of asthma” raised the possibility that broad spectrum antibiotics, particularly in the first year of life, may be associated with an increased risk of atopy and asthma.

According to Dr. Michael Kaliner, Head of Allergic Disease Section, National Institute of Mental Health, “a focus on bronchodialtors as the only therapy (for asthma) is inappropriate.  It is symptomatic therapy that has nothing to do with the healing process.” Thus, the focus of medical science is beginning to shift away from attempts to contain symptoms of asthma to exploring the controlling mechanism as a means of solving and preventing asthma and related respiratory conditions.

shutterstock_baby asthmaHow can asthma be treated?  One possible alternative to drug therapy for asthma is Chiropractic care and there is mounting preliminary clinical evidence that it may offer relief to asthma sufferers.  The science of chiropractic is founded on the premise that a proper nerve supply is essential in controlling and regulating bodily function.  The nervous system is protected by the spine, consisting of 24 movable vertebrae.  When the spine is in its proper position, it protects the nerve pathways.  But when vertebrae become misaligned, interference to the nerve impulses occurs which reduces the overall functioning of the nervous system and of the particular organ to which it is assigned.  These misalignments are known as “vertebral subluxations.”  Doctors of Chiropractic detect and correct vertebral subluxations (misalignment in the spinal bones) by physically adjusting the spine.  This restores the nervous system to an optimal level of function, which maximizes the body’s inherent healing ability. 

A properly functioning nervous system should be among the first priorities in solving asthma since it is the nervous system which controls all of our bodily functions.  Breathing is controlled primarily by  the respiratory center in the brain from which  the nerve impulses are sent to the respiratory muscles, causing them to expand and contract.  Nerve impulses also control the tone of the bronchial tubes.  The sympathetic system opens or dilates the bronchial tubes, and the parasympathetic system closes or constricts them.  So, asthma in effect can be thought of as either too much input from the parasympathetic system or too little input from the sympathetic system.  In either case, the result is constriction of the bronchial tubes.  This is the reason that the primary drugs used to treat asthma stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to cause an opening of the bronchi to allow for easier breathing.

The Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research recently published information which demonstrates the positive effect of chiropractic with asthmatic patients.  In a 1997 study of children with asthma, 90% of the subjects reported significant improvement in symptoms following two months of chiropractic care.  Additionally, 30% of the subjects chose to voluntarily decrease their medication by an average of 66% while under chiropractic care.  This study concluded that chiropractic care, for the correction of vertebral subluxation “ is a safe nonpharmacologic health care approach which may also be associated with significant decreases in asthma related impairment…”A 1988 study concluded that patients who were young at the time of asthma onset were most likely to benefit from chiropractic spinal adjustments and improvement was generally reported after an average of five treatments.  And further studies in  the September, 1997 issue of the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research has found that “significant positive changes” in breathing capacity and lung function occur under chiropractic care.

Since there is little doubt that asthma is an allergic disease, it is essential to determine exactly what each asthmatic is allergic to and then eliminate those allergies.  According to Dr. Ellen Cutler, author of “Winning the War Against Asthma and Allergies” and “The Food Allergy Cure”, there are numerous allergens that can trigger an asthma attack.  And, in addition to allergies, most asthmatics appear to suffer from poor digestion, including constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.  Many are sugar and starch intolerant and are deficient in critical, life supporting enzymes that are needed for every chemical reaction in our bodies. 

Dr. Cutler developed the BioSET Allergy Elimination Technique and through BioSET, Dr. Cutler has stated that she has been able to cure asthma once the allergies that cause it have been eliminated.  BioSET incorporates acupressure, enzyme therapy, nutrition, detoxification, kinesiology, chiropractic, and immunology to help build bodily strength and vitality.  According to Burton Goldberg, Publisher of Alternative Medicine: A Definitive Guide, “Dr. Cutler is on the forefront of asthma and allergy treatment.  Her approach is an excellent example of how alternative medicine offers permanent reversal of health conditions instead of temporary relief of symptoms.”

More and more people are searching for drug-free approaches to chronic health problems and demanding remedies that encourage rather than suppress their own healing force. Most asthmatics have at some point in time been told that asthma is a chronic condition that they would have to contend with for the rest of their lives.  Yet, every asthmatic should be able to lead a normal, drug-free life. Perhaps natural alternatives such as Chiropractic, BioSET Allergy Elimination, acupuncture and nutrition will be just what many asthmatics need to begin taking a breath of fresh air!