Asthma is the most common chronic respiratory disease in both kids and adults. In 2020-2021, it was estimated that 10.7% of Australians had asthma. For kids, the rate is very similar at 10% for those aged 0-14; with the highest rates for those aged 5-9 at 15%.
What is asthma?
It is a condition that affects the lungs. The larger branches of the lungs become obstructed due to inflammation of the airway lining and constriction of the muscles around the airways. This leads to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
The condition is immune in origin – it is caused by an immune system that is confused about how to respond to a trigger. Your doctor may prescribe medications to manage the symptoms, but these do not address the immune aspect of the issue.
What triggers asthma?
There are many factors that can trigger asthma symptoms. Your child may react to only one or two, or they may have issues with all of them.
Other potential triggers can include
- Cold, dry air – this is why many will flare over the winter time
- Intense exercise
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Environmental allergens such as pollen, dust and dust mites
- Pollutants such as tobacco smoke, perfume and chemicals in cleaning products
- Acute illness or infection
- Stress – you may find that your child gets wheezy or breathless after a tantrum, for example
There is a strong genetic component to asthma. Kids are much more likely to develop asthma if there is a family history of asthma and related conditions such as eczema and hayfever. But this predisposition isn’t a guarantee.
The link between asthma and gut health
Gut health is often overlooked when it comes to asthma. But it is one of the most important components to address.
Asthma is a condition of immune dysregulation. Because your child’s immune system is still learning how to react appropriately, they are more likely to experience allergic conditions such as asthma.
But why is your child’s immune system out of balance in the first place? There are a few reasons that link back to the gut, including:
- Low levels of ‘good’ bacteria and/or high levels of ‘bad’ bacteria
- Increased intestinal permeability (often known as leaky gut)
- Food intolerances and sensitivities
Each of these can prime the immune system to overreact to something that is not a true danger.
How can I treat my child’s asthma?
If you’re looking to do more for your child’s asthma than using preventer medications, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s look at some ways you can take a more holistic approach to asthma.
1. Minimise or avoid exposure to airborne allergens/triggers
Most children with asthma will be sensitive to environmental allergens. The most common issue I see in asthma is dust mites.
You can get testing to confirm whether your child has a dust mite allergy.
But there are also simple ways to reduce dust mites, such as:
- Wash bedding weekly in hot water
- If your child sleeps with soft toys, add those to the weekly wash with the bedding
- Vacuum regularly, including any upholstered furniture
- Dust using a wet or electrostatic cloth to prevent the allergens from becoming airborne
Other potential triggers found in the home include mould, pet dander/hair, perfumes and home fragrances, tobacco smoke, chemicals in home cleaning products.
To keep your home mould free, read here. To remove mould from surfaces, consider using Abode Mould Control spray. Some people suggest clove oil but a well-renowned building biologist talks about why clove oil may not be the best remedy. For more extensive mould issues, it is strongly suggested to get a certified Building Biologist in.
2. Support the immune system to minimise colds and flu
Catching a virus can be a real trigger for asthmatics, the already overly sensitive airways now have to deal with the additional inflammatory load of a virus or bacteria.
When it comes to immune support for colds and flu, we are more concerned about supporting the immune system to deal with what it comes across so that the infection is as mild as possible and your child is able to bounce back easier.
Top tips are:
Reduce or eliminate dairy. For some kids, this can be a real game changer.
Avoid sugar. A really big immune system depleter. Switch for whole fruit to help your child adjust.
Adopt an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern. This means:
- Lots of leafy green vegetables, seasonal fruit, raw nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
- Wholegrains. Lean meat, fish. poultry and eggs.
- Red meat and dairy (preferably fermented such as kefir, cheese and yoghurt) in moderation.
- Fish on a weekly basis. Research shows that getting your kids to eat fresh fish at least once a week can reduce current asthma by 25% and current wheeze by 38%. For older kids in particular, aged 8-14, it is recommended to go for the fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines as including this kind of fish weekly can reduce current asthma by 65%.
3. Work on gut health
As gut health is a pillar for building immune tolerance, this is the best place to start. There are many ways to support a healthy gut, but some simple changes include:
- Increasing their intake of wholefoods, particularly veggies
- Reducing their intake of processed carbohydrates and sugars
- Encouraging outdoor play – the more microbes they are exposed to, the more the immune system learns about what is safe and what is not
- Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary
4. Uncover hidden food intolerances
It’s common for food to be a trigger for asthma symptoms, and food allergies often coexist with asthma. But an underlying food intolerance could also be contributing to the gut health and immune imbalance leading to asthma.
Dairy is the most common food intolerance I see in children with asthma. Issues with dairy can also lead to more mucus production, which can further trigger symptoms.
It’s important to identify any foods that could be causing issues. Working with a qualified nutritionist can help you to narrow down the suspects, get testing done and do a trial elimination diet.
5. Avoid additives
Keeping additives out of the diet is recommended regardless of whether a child has asthma or not. We do know, though, that certain additives can be a real trigger for asthmatics.
Sulphites, for example, is a preservative used in food and drinks that can trigger asthma. They can also cause allergy like reactions such as hives and hay fever symptoms.
Food items may list sulphites as an allergen notice or will have a code number E220 to E228.
Some examples to watch out for include cordials, fruit juices, soft drinks, vinegar, commercial preparations of lemon and lime juice, vegemite, deli meats, sausages, bacon, frozen chips, gravies, sauces, dried apricots, jams and jellies.
Looking for some professional support with your child’s asthma?
Get in touch with me today!