Asthma, is one of the 4As of early childhood health– Allergies, Asthma, Autism & ADHD. Combined, these represent a cluster of health conditions that are exploding in our children. Asthma particularly is the most common childhood condition in Australia, and the most common cause of childhood visits to the hospital and even missed school days.
As a parent, a diagnosis of asthma can be daunting, the prospect of life long use of oral steroids distressing, and waking in the middle of the night to the sounds of a child unable to breathe just plain scary. Despite research and investigation, the medical treatment of asthma is largely the same today as it was when we were kids, daily use of a preventer and always know where your reliever is.
What Are the Symptoms of Asthma
The symptoms of asthma are quite characteristic, and will usually include:
- wheezing and coughing
- tightness of the chest
- shortness of breathing.
It is very important to ensure you obtain a proper medical diagnosis, and avoid self-diagnosing your child. Asthma like symptoms can often be because of other factors including the common cold.
Tips on how to treat it
Physically asthma involves inflammation and constriction or spasm of the airways. An asthma attack is a life threatening emergency and should be treated immediately with your child’s reliever medication.
Medically, management of asthma involves the daily use of a preventer oral medication and avoidance of the common asthma triggers. These usually include:
- smoke and second hand cigarette smoke
- dust-mites and pollen
- certain foods
In my clinic, I find diet and lifestyle changes make a big difference. Asthma is largely driven by inflammation so any changes that reduce your child’s inflammation will be beneficial. I recommend a three part strategy for parents that I refer to as Replace, Repair, Replenish.
Replace is about swapping highly inflammatory foods for anti inflammatory foods. This means eliminating refined and processed foods and replacing them with whole, plant based foods and lean protein sources including oily fish and organic eggs. I have found wheat, and cow’s milk products to be a major source of inflammation and always recommend these be eliminated.
Cow and soy milk are particularly damaging for infants. Feeding your child with cow milk or soy milk formulas during early life is more likely to lead to respiratory and wheezing illnesses in early childhood.
Repair focusses on restoring damaged tissues. Inflammation is like a fire in your child’s body. The replace stage has deprived the fire of further fuel, now the repair stage is cleaning up the damage. Repairing damage involves the use of soothing herbs and nutrients like aloe vera, slippery elm, glutamine, and omega–3 essential fatty acids.
Replenish involves re-establishing colonies of good bacteria in your child’s gut. Increasingly, gut flora is being shown to exert a large influence in your child’s overall health. Many conditions, including asthma, are being linked to an overgrowth of bad bacteria and a lack of good bacteria. I have found this to be particularly true working with children resulting from the frequent use of antibiotics in early life.
Foods to avoid
Besides environmental triggers, I have found many children with Asthma to have specific food based triggers. The reactions to these foods can be so strong that an attack can start within hours of eating them. These are generally highly processed foods, some specific examples include:
- foods high in nitrates, nitrites, and sulphites, like hot dogs, bacon, and some cheeses
- foods high in artificial food additives particularly packet or bottle based sauce mixes
- foods that have been deep fried in vegetable oils like canola or sunflower oil
- processed foods containing milk, wheat and refined sugar
As the time from exposure to a reaction can vary I recommend that parents keep a food and symptom diary. This allows you to look back at exactly what your child has eaten for the day to identify other foods that may be triggering reactions.
Living With Asthma
Although your child’s asthma is a health condition that needs to be monitored closely by you and your chosen health professional, it doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of taking oral steroids or other medication. A healthy, balanced diet, high in whole foods and omega 3 essential fatty acids, combined with avoidance of known triggers can reduce or eliminate your child’s dependence on medication.
It’s also important to remember that your child’s asthma should not prevent them from enjoying a full and active life. After all, the list of people with asthma includes names like:
- NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman
- Olympic swimmer Dawn Fraser
- Olympic runner Cathy Freeman
At the clinic I offer a 96 Food Intolerance testing to help you identify your child’s intolerances and eliminate those whilst working on improving the immune system and the 3 R’s, Replace, Repair and Replenish!