Gasping for breath?

May 29, 2012, 06:55 IST | Soma Das

India accounts for one-third of the world's asthmatics. On the occasion of National Asthma Awareness month in the United States, experts tell us how to overcome the chronic disease that leaves its victims struggling to breathe

Asthma is a disease that causes swelling and narrowing in the airways of the lungs, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. At 115 million, India accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s asthma patients.

“Asthma is characterised by spasms in the trachea (windpipe), swelling of trachea and formation of sputum (mucus),” says Jayshree Niphadkar, Medical Director at Dr Pramod Niphadkar’s Asthma and Allergy Centre in Dadar and VP-Asthma and Bronchitis Association of India (ABAI).

Niphadkar says that triggers can vary from allergies (80% of cases are due to it) to house dust or bird droppings, infections such as common cold or fever, pollution, reaction to drugs such as painkillers or even due to a hyperactive type
A personality.

At the clinic, patients are tested for allergies, advised on the proper dosage of medicines and given a dietary checklist to help them cope with the disorder. “An asthma patient’s diet should include green vegetables, fruits, water and juices,” she says, adding that fried items, ice creams, as well as yoghurt and yoghurt-based drinks including chaas (buttermilk) and lassi (yoghurt drink) should be avoided.

“We also advocate Pranayama, chanting and other breathing exercises, as well as activities including balloon-blowing and bubble-making to boost lung capacity,” adds Niphadkar.

Completely treatable
According to Dr Waqar Sheikh, Allergy Specialist at Bombay Hospital and Honorary Professor of Medicine at Grant Medical College, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the chronic disease that is characterised by an inflammation in the airways.

“Asthma is fully treatable. People feel that inhalers can be addictive but the drug content in them is minimal,” he says, adding that he has witnessed an increase in the number of cases over the years. “While 30% of the population suffers from allergies, around 75% of all asthma cases are a combination of allergic asthma and rhinitis (common colds),” says Sheikh.

Allergic asthma can be treated with Vaccine Immunotherapy or Sublingual immunotherapy, a method of allergy treatment that uses drops to be taken under the tongue, which reduces sensitivity to allergens. “It is safe even for pregnant women to take,” says Sheikh, adding, “These drops are to be taken over a time period, depending on the patient and can completely cure allergic asthma,” he observes.

Mind-body connection
According to Shameem Akhtar, Yogacharya and founder of Yoga Kuteer in Bandra, the root of the disease could be psychosomatic. “Louise L, Hay, alternative therapist and author of You Can Heal Your Life, notes that this ailment may be triggered by smothered love, feeling stifled and is suppressed crying (tears).”

The Bihar School of Yoga book on Yoga for Common ailments notes that most respiratory ailments result from extreme sensitivity, either someone who is hypervigilant or hyper sensitive and reacts to environmental triggers (including people). Stress, worry and anxiety are other triggers, according to the Bihar School of Yoga, Yogic Management of Asthma and Diabetes.

“It can be controlled with regular yoga practice, including pranayama (which is a premeditative practice and powers the respiratory system), and meditation such as yoga nidra (or sleep of yoga), which relaxes and helps us step back from our problems, so that we may analyse them and find a solution,” she says.

Fight asthma through diet
Dr Rohit Bartake, Ayurveda-charya at Shree Vishvartha Ayurved Chikitsalaya, observes that there is a connection between asthma and the body’s digestion. “While asthma symptoms may be evident in the lungs, the phlegm is formed in the digestive system. That’s why a lot of asthma patients also suffer from digestive problems.”

Ayurvedic Panchkarma treatments for asthma patients include Vaman (medically induced vomiting to cleanse the upper respiratory tract and upper digestive system) and Virechana (controlled purgation to cleanse intestines). Bartake advises asthma patients to avoid eating late dinners, and consume refrigerated food, pickles, baked products (bread, toast, biscuits, fermented foods) and combinations such as milk and salt, or fish and milk in moderation.

Asthma patients may also suffer from skin ailments such as dry skin eczema. “Often there is a vicious cycle where the medicines that suppress asthma cause skin ailments to flair up and vice versa. Purging the body of toxins helps break this cycle,” says Bartake. 

What is Brittle Asthma?
Brittle asthma is a variant of asthma that is difficult to treat,” says Dr Agam Vora from Dr RN Cooper Hospital. “It arises from a failure in achieving asthma control when doses of inhaled therapy are prescribed for at least 6 to 12 months under the care of an asthma specialist.” Most Brittle Asthma patients are essentially under-treated asthmatics. “About 3% of the Indian population suffers from asthma, out of which 0.05 % of all asthmatics are brittle asthma patients.”

Symptoms of brittle asthma include lack of sleep, uneasiness, persistent breathing difficulties, multiple hospitalisations and faster consumption of inhalers, in spite of regular asthma medication. Common causes include food allergy, psychological factors, allergic cold and steroid resistance. While it has a 100% mortality rate, if detected early Brittle Asthma can be treated. “An accurate diagnosis can be established by performing a PFT (Pulmonary Function Test). Hygiene measures in lifestyle, food intake and exercise can cut down the risk of brittle asthma, dramatically. Alternative therapies such as Yoga have proven to be very beneficial to prevent, as well as keep asthma in check.”

3 asanas to beat asthma by Yogacharya Shameem Akhtar

Pranamasana (Prayer pose):
Method: Sit on your heels. Exhale. Kneeling down, lean forward to place both palms flat on ground. Continue breathing. Gently place crown on yoga mat. Use a towel (under the head) so that you don’t feel any discomfort. Roll further, so that the neck locks between collar bones. Keep the back up instead of slumping. Hips should also be up. Stay in pose for as long as comfortable, breathing steadily throughout. To release, sit back on the knees, raising head. Roll your neck to the left side and right side gently to release tension. Over six weeks increase duration in the pose from a few seconds initially to at least a minute. Increasing the time further, to two minutes or more is advised, if diet control and weight loss is your goal.
Benefits: Apart from preparing you for the headstand, it also provides powerful traction to the spine, is used in fat loss and hunger control and asthma therapy. In asthma therapy (and even in sinus ailments), this pose may be used immediately after an attack, while recovering, or to revitalise the body.

Illustrations/ Amit Bandre

Shashankasana (Hare pose)
Method: Sit on your knees in the namaaz position, big toes lightly touching each other, while heels are flared out. In case of difficulty, you can try this sitting cross-legged. Beginners must keep a cushion or stool where their forehead is likely to touch the floor. Inhale. Raise hands overhead. Exhale. Slowly lower head and torso towards floor. Rest forehead on floor. Those with breathing problems should rest forehead on a high cushion. Continue breathing normally. Maintain pose for a few seconds. Over the next weeks increase the duration in the final pose to a minute or so.
Benefits: This strengthens the shoulder and neck muscles which support muscles that power our breath. This pose helps remove or control the psychosomatic triggers behind our breathing woes.
Caution: Avoid if you’re suffering from lower backache. Those suffering from high BP and heart ailments must learn this with guidance in a phased fashion and with props.

Akash vardhak
(Hand gesture to increase the space element)
Touch the fingernails of either middle finger, keeping the other fingers extended as shown. Hold for as long as you can, during meditation or while doing pranayama, with eyes shut. You can also practice it any time you wish, during the day, so daily practice is about 15 minutes.
Benefits: It relaxes the muscular linking of the respiratory tract, helps to control and prevent asthma attacks, and may be used immediately after an attack for relief.

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