Why Does My Child's Asthma Seem Worse This Time of Year?

I have to admit when I received this question I hadn't given a lot of thought to the significant increase in asthma attacks during the holiday season.  However, when you think about what is going on during the holiday months, it makes complete sense. 

The weather has turned colder, and we're spending more time indoors and, if you celebrate Christmas, you've brought a formerly live tree (full of last year's pollen) into the home, or you've broken out the dusty plastic tree from the attic. 

This is usually compounded with a massive amount of dietary indiscretions, everything from Christmas cookies to pies and candies.  For the adults with asthma, you add all the stress, we are experiencing from kid's excitement over impending presents, their break from school, and the late night holiday parties and you've got a perfect recipe for an asthma flare.

I found it interesting that I received this question last night right after I'd seen, and noted, several "is your asthma controlled commercials."   It makes sense, with approximately 300 million people worldwide suffering from asthma-like symptoms, that asthmatics would push for more awareness this time of year.  This is the time of year that everything labeled as "triggers" by the medical world is pulled out and asthmatics are exposed to more than their used to the rest of the year.

Let's dive in a little on what asthma is.  Asthma is described as a chronic inflammatory disease of the respiratory system.  It's hallmarked by intermittent, variable but recurring symptoms that involve a reversible obstruction of the airway, or, bronchospasms. 

In short, symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest or shortness of breath.  The keyword to note about the whole disease is inflammatory.  Inflammation in the body is very much a double-edged sword.  Your body needs some inflammation to help the body heal, and your immune system uses it to fight off infections and keep things that are out to harm us at arm's length. 

The problem comes when inflammation runs rampant in our bodies.  If you've lost your anti-inflammatory reserves (think essential fats), or, you're eating a very inflammatory diet (think high sugar/starch/carbohydrates and grain-based foods) the result will be that when your immune system is exposed to one of your "triggers", as in dust or pollen from your Christmas tree, then your bronchi will get inflamed and form mucous potentially causing the spasms or asthma attack.

All of this inflammation is mediated by your adrenal glands, your stress receptors.  When we become overstressed for an extended period, our adrenal glands become tired and can no longer keep the inflammation in check.  Once the adrenals start to stress out the inflammation starts to run rampant allowing the mucous and spasms associated with asthma to begin.  Now, I suppose you could just skip the Christmas tree, the shopping, the holiday parties, or wear a mask all winter long to make sure you don't come in contact with a "trigger," but I would suggest a different path that might keep your social life intact!

Step 1. Change your diet.  Yeah, I know, but it’s the holidays, right?  Trust me you'll want to add in a lot more fats.  These are your natural anti-inflammatories.  Eat fish, grass-fed beef, and healthy saturated fats (yes, they are good for you.  I'll talk about that in a later post).  Now that you have increased those great anti-inflammatory foods you have to cut out the processed foods, and that includes grains.  If it has stuff you can’t spell or pronounce as ingredients its going to increase inflammation.  Cut it out!

Step 2.  Increase your low-intensity exercise.  This will work two-fold, it will get your heart working, and it will carry all those great anti-inflammatory things to the places they are needed. If you're still suffering, get into your local AK doc and make sure your body is properly balanced structurally, chemically and emotionally.  That is by far the best way to fight off asthma and for that matter the dreaded cold and flu season that happens to be in full swing at the same time!

I hope you found this week’s Q & A helpful.  Please pass it along and, if you have any questions, please send them to [email protected]

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