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 Herbal Medicine: Asthma  
A reversible obstructive lung disorder characterized by increased responsiveness of the airways.

This is a condition in which the small bronchial airways temporarily constrict, so that it is difficult to exhale. This leads to breathlessness and wheezing. Such difficulty is caused by muscle spasm in the bronchi of the lungs. This narrows the space available for air to make its way out of the lungs, and breathing out is always more difficult than breathing in, thus producing the characteristic wheezing sound associated with asthma attacks.

Because the passages are narrowed and air flow reduced, mucus also builds up in the lungs, and this makes it even more difficult to breathe. The mucus is also a breeding-ground for bacteria, so attacks of bronchitis may arise as a complication of the asthma.

Many asthma attacks are triggered by allergens, such as dust, mould spores, mites, animal hair or feathers but the onset may equally be caused by cold air, or it may be preceded by an infection such as a cold. Certainly, stress and more specifically acute anxiety are known to be the immediate trigger for many attacks, and this can sometimes give rise to a vicious circle of asthma - anxiety about the asthma - further attacks. Thus a wide range of etiological factors can be involved in this all too common problem. A number of different groupings can be applied:

  • extrinsic asthma - caused by allergic responses to house dust, animal fur, or various foods. Such causes 10-20% of adult asthma.
  • intrinsic asthma - caused by genetics, structural problems, infections, pollutants and stress - both physiological and psychological. Such causes 30-50% of adult asthma.

The symptoms of people with asthma differ greatly in frequency and degree. Some have an occasional episode that is mild and brief; otherwise they are symptom free. Others have mild coughing and wheezing much of the time, punctuated by severe exacerbation's of symptoms following exposure to known allergies, viral infections, exercise or nonspecific irritants. A series of stages have been characterized for describing the severity of an acute asthma attack:
  1. Mild - mild dyspnoea; diffuse wheezes; adequate air exchange.
  2. Moderate - respiratory distress at rest; hypernea, use of accessory muscles; marked wheezes.
  3. Severe - marked respiratory distress; cyanosis; use of accessory muscles; marked wheezes or absent breath sounds.
  4. Respiratory failure - Severe respiratory distress; lethargy; confusion; prominent pulsus paradoxus. Use of accessory muscles.

Phytotherapy has much to offer in the treatment, control and even cure of asthmatic problems, but will not replace emergency allopathic support stages 3 and 4. Another useful context within which asthma can be seen is that of age of onset of symptoms.

Childhood-onset asthma
This is closely linked with the presence of eczema, hay fever, urticaria and migraine in the patient or in close relatives. People with this kind of family history are called a topic. If both parents have a history of atopythen the chances of the child being affected is 50%; if one parent is affected, the chance is 30%; and if neither parent is affected, the chance is approximately 12%. Childhood asthma may very often be preceded for several months or even years by episodic coughing which later develops into wheezy bronchitis and then eventually into asthma. Such children often have a history of slow recovery from upper respiratory tract viral infections as well as a personal or family history of atopy. Treatment for a topic asthma is described below

Adult-onset asthma
Adult-onset asthma is more common in women than men. There are two broad types. In the first there are no obvious reasons for the asthmatic attacks. In the second, there are fairly obvious trigger factors that precipitate attacks. The sufferer should avoid such triggers but, even so, new allergens will continue to be detected, to be added to the list of external or environmental causes of the condition. Common triggers include:
  • Inhaled allergens - Commonly inhaled allergens include the house-dust mite; animal dander's; pollens, particularly grass; mould spores.
  • Irritant gases - including cigarette smoke.
  • Ingested allergens - foods; drugs, e.g. aspirin, colored medicines(pills, capsules and syrups); food additives; yeast and moulds on food.
  • Infecting organisms - either due to the infection itself or an allergy to the organism.
  • Temperature changes - especially cold air.
  • Changes in the weather.
  • Exercise.
  • Emotional stress - e.g. bereavement.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Certain chemicals in the workplace.

Actions indicated for the processes behind this disease :
Pulmonary tonics are important in long term strengthening of the lungs, but will do little in short term relief of an attack.
Expectorant remedies will be essential to ensure that there is the minimum of build up of sputum in the lungs. However, stimulant expectorants would potentially aggravate the breathing difficulties. Thus only use relaxing expectorants.
Demulcents will be soothing and support the relaxing expectorants.
Anti-spasmodic plants will ease the spasm response in the muscles of the lungs.
Anti-microbial support is called for if there is potential for secondary infection, which is too be guarded against at all costs.
Anti-catarrhals aid the body in dealing with overproduction of sputum in lungs or sinuses.
Cardio-Tonic herbs will support the heart in the face of lung congestion or strain.
Nervine support is always appropriate either because stress is a trigger or because the asthma becomes a source of stress & concern which then in turn triggers attacks.

System Support :
Tonic support of the systems most effected by asthma is often the key to successful treatments. Of primary importance is, of course, the respiratory system. In addition to this consideration must also be given to the cardio-vascular, nervous, and digestive systems. The digestive system comes into play because of any dietary sensitivities, which often have an impact on the histological structure of the alimentary canal.

Specific Remedies :
Ephedra sinica (Ma Huang) and some other species of orientalEphedra prove exceptional useful as bronchodilators. Original source of the alkaloid l-ephedrine. The synthetic ephedrine is racemic, optically inactive because it has equal parts of dextro- & levorotatory forms. The natural form has advantages as it is better tolerated, causing fewer heart symptoms Ephedrine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, relieving the bronchial spasm that underlies the asthmatic state, as well other conditions that have a broncho spasm component such as emphysema. Allergic reactions respond well to Ephedra because of its action on the sympathetic nerves.

Other plants from all around the world have marked anti-spasmodic and bronchodilating effects. Of most importance within western Phytotherapy are:
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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
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