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25 Ways I've Improved My Asthma

I just received a really lovely email from Liz, who was recently hospitalized for asthma.  Sick in bed, she was clicking around the internet and found us by following a link to How To Plant, Grow, & Prune Blueberries.  Liz, I’m so sorry you’re sick!!

In her email, Liz asked what I’ve done to try to get off my own asthma medications.  I spent the whole walk home yesterday thinking about all the many things I’ve done over the past couple of years!  So I thought some of you might benefit from this, or know someone who has asthma and might benefit.

My husband, who doesn’t have asthma, has benefited from many of these changes as well – he says he’s not sick as often, he gets headaches less, he’s less stuffy in his nose, and his sense of smell has vastly improved!

Brief History of My Asthma

I was very sick as a child – every fall through spring I had a serial illnesses of bronchitis, ear infections, sinus infections, mononucleosis, strep throat, respiratory flus, colds,… it was pretty miserable.  At that time, people recognized wheezing as the only major symptom of asthma – rather than what I had, which was uncontrollable coughing and gasping for breath.  If you want to know how it feels, I even made a short film about it!

So I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in college.  And boy, my world changed!  Suddenly I had enough oxygen on a daily basis – my mind was clearer, I was sick a little less often, and my posture improved a bit (asthmatics tend to hunch over their chest).

When I moved to New York several years later, it got worse.  My doctor at the time said that was normal, and added more medications.  A few years later, I moved to LA.  Of course it got worse.  My low point was taking high doses of steroids, 7 daily medications, and STILL uncontrollably coughing and gasping for breath.

Something needed to change.  So over the last four years or so, I’ve slowly made lifestyle changes that have got me down to just two medications (at the lowest possible doses), with an occasional rescue inhaler (used every few months).  I’ve been sick twice in the last three years.  That’s it.

My goal is to go off all my medications by the end of the year.  Catching a terrible bug going around just recently has set me back a tad, but I’m moving forward again.

A Word of Caution

Be careful.  Listen to your body.  Listen to your doctors.

I am not a doctor, I am only writing about what works for me.  Please take what you can on your road to finding what works for you.

And above all, remember that the most important thing is for your asthma to be under control.  It’s ok to be a bit cautious, because out of control asthma takes a long time to recover from – if it doesn’t feel right to make a change, don’t risk it.  Take your time.  It will get better.

25 Ways I’ve Improved My Asthma

  1. Remove all toxic and fragrant products from your home. I may not be starting with a small one for some of you, but this is where I started.  Shampoos, soaps, detergents, floor cleaners, carpet sprays, window cleaners… all of it.  Replace them with very natural versions (no artificial scents, and preferably no scents) or make them yourself.
  2. No fragrances or toxins on the body. It was hard for me to give up perfume, but I did.  It is incredible how much of a difference it made.  Lotion – find the most natural, non-fragrant one you can find.  Deodorant.  Bath oils… you get the picture.  This is not about deprivation, it’s about getting healthy and staying that way!  You’ll get used to it.
  3. Exercise regularly. Every day if possible.  It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just get the warm air going through your lungs.  In the winter, wear a scarf and put it over your mouth and nose to keep the air warm.  I walk to work every day, about 2.5 miles round trip.
  4. Learn about asthma. Learn how it works – it’s fascinating and useful; learn what to look for in a trigger; learn what medications there are (your physician may not know all the answers).  I started with Asthma for Dummies (I know, but it really is helpful).  Talk to your doctor as much as he or she will let you.
  5. Reduce stress. Or Increase calmness.  Maybe a little of both.  Take it as it comes.  Learn to say no.  Be ok with staying home if you’re tired and need a little “me” time.
  6. Be the master of your own medical plan. I had to make my own appointment to see a pulmonologist – nobody referred me.  It was one of the first catalysts for getting my asthma back on track.  Now I’ve gone so far as to see a naturopath and do acupuncture.  But that’s not all.  You and only you know when you need an increase or decrease in medication.  You know.  You know when it’s time to try a different medication or doctor because one isn’t quite working.  You have to ask, you have to keep track, you have to read up, you have to know your body better than anyone else, and you have to advocate for you.
  7. Find your triggers and get rid of them. In my home, I found that I’m allergic to wool, latex, and sesame oil – along with dust mites of course.  It took a while to figure those out!  I had to really pay attention to what was making me cough.
  8. Cover your pillows, mattresses, and duvets. Dustmite covers are all over now – you can buy them really cheaply at Target, or get expensive organic ones that last forever online.  I recommend not getting the super cheap plastic ones, as the fumes from the plastic are pretty bad.
  9. Wash your hands. That’s an easy one – yay!  Don’t be afraid to feel a little crazy at how much you wash your hands – it’s better than being sick.  Wash before eating, after being around sick people or in well used public spaces.  Carry anti-bacterial stuff with you in your purse, but wash whenever possible.
  10. Invest in good air filters. Replace your heat/air con filters per their instructions – at least annually – and buy good ones with a HEPA filter if possible.  We have a separate HEPA filter in our bedroom that runs all the time.  It has made a huge difference.  We have this one.  It’s really expensive, but it has lasted forever.  Most others break after a year or two.
  11. Take daily vitamins. I take a food-based women’s multi-vitamin as well as vitamin D (because we have so little sun in Seattle).
  12. Eat healthy, balanced meals – not too much, mostly plants, and not late at night.  I have been a vegetarian since 1989.  You don’t have to get that extreme, but eat organic, whole foods as much as possible.  And make sure you don’t eat anything 2 hours or less before bed.  GERD is a huge asthma trigger.
  13. Eliminate food sensitivities aka triggers. I knew sesame oil was a problem, but had no other food allergies that I knew of.  And then… there was wheat.  I had no idea!  The change a gluten-free diet has made for me… is the biggest change yet.  I highly recommend doing a cleanse to find out what you’re allergic and sensitive to.
  14. Do a Cleanse or Detox. Gets all those toxins out of your system, makes you feel GREAT, eliminates the foods you’re most likely to be sensitive to, and gives you a clean slate to test out foods you might be allergic to.  You can do it with your doctor’s guidance.I did it and LOVED it.  Alternatively, do the Elimination Diet.
  15. Keep your chest and breath warm. I have my own fashion:  I have a ton of scarves.  I’m always wearing them.  The secret:  they’re to keep my chest warm!  A pulmonologist told me this once, and it totally works.  I don’t leave home without wearing a scarf unless it’s pretty warm outside.  I also bring one out to dinner or movies, or friends’ houses.  Your lungs are so reactive when you have asthma, that they react to cold as well as actual allergens.
  16. No ice. For the same reasons as #15.  I always used to have asthma attacks in bars.  I was complaining to my pulmonologist, and she said “do you get drinks with ice in them?” So I tried not having ice, and she was right!
  17. Stay clear of highly polluting substances. If you don’t have to walk along the freeway to work, don’t.  If you can put your printer far away from your work station, do.  If you can live in a place without floors with formaldehyde, please do (many carpets and wood floors are glued with the nastiest of chemicals!!).  Stay clear of the smokers…
  18. Learn to nurture yourself. Take a break when you’re sick.  Get a massage (it can loosen up chest and shoulder muscles that are keeping your chest from fully opening).  Try acupuncture.  Drink warm tea.
  19. Yoga. Exercise plus de-stress plus lung opening equals asthmatic friend.  I love it.
  20. Know your own limits. Know when you shouldn’t push it, and know when it’s ok to push it. For instance, learn when you’re feeling so good for a while that you might try a little less medication for a day and see what happens.  Learn your edge.
  21. Have a supportive partner or family if possible. If you live with someone, tell them a little about what you’re learning and what if feels like.  They likely have NO idea that you feel like a fish out of water.  They might be able to help cut down on the toxins in your home as well, and may be able to help recognize when you’re starting to have an attack so you can catch it early.
  22. Hire cleaners. It took a long time for me to come to terms with this one.  But every single doctor has told me I can’t be the one to clean our home, because cleaning stirs up so much dust.  So I took the plunge and we now have green cleaners that come once a month.  Don’t forget you also have to leave the house when they’re cleaning!
  23. Detox your workplace. Printers, dirty carpets, perfumes,… there are a lot of things you can’t control very well.  I have plants all around my desk to help purify the air, as well as a little desk HEPA filter I use on occasion.  Keep your desk clean and free of dust.
  24. Work to solve other health issues you have. Often asthma is not a lonely culprit – it is often aggravated by, or aggravates, other health issues.  For me it was GERD (until I stopped eating gluten), grinding my teeth (I now have a nightguard), shoulder and chest weakness (which yoga is helping with), and gluten intolerance.
  25. Read and learn regularly. There are always new medications and studies being done.  You may find that a new study has indicated asthma may be caused by something or other, or a new exercise is thought to make a difference.  Try it.  It may or may not work, but I’ve found a few ideas that way!  In fact, I’ve learned there are breath coaches out there and I’m wondering if that my be my last push to freedom from medication.  We shall see!

Good luck and I wish you the best of health.  Please ask me any questions – I’ll answer if I can, or try to point you in the right direction if I can’t!


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15 comments to 25 Ways I’ve Improved My Asthma

  • Excellent points, Melinda! Though I don’t have asthma, I feel choked with strong perfumes, dust and smell of old clothes etc. Hence, try to practice most of the ways you have suggested.

    • Rashmie, thanks for your note – my husband has been really happy with the changes we’ve made. In general, most of these are about healthy living – you’re right!

  • I’m just about ready to take the leap and try the elimination diet. I decided to wait until there are more local fruits/vegetables available so that I can stick to that goal. Also finally got around to requesting Clean from the library.

    • Awesome, Deb G! Let me know if you have questions along the way – not only have I done it twice now, but I’m getting an awful lot of emails about it. It seems to be a change that has really caught on. (I love knowing there are people who are at least a wee bit healthier because of something I wrote!) And great that it’s at the library!

  • Thanks a lot for the tips. I used to have asthma when I was a kid, and my daughhther has it trigged by protein’s of cow milk.
    I shoul try some of your advice.

  • Tracey

    I have done most of the same things you have done, after having a very bad five month siege two years ago. I would add to read up on what vitamins, minerals and other supplements help improve immunity and lung function. What an improvement when I reduced chemicals and additives from my diet and my home. Thanks for the great post.

  • The ice and warm chest thing fascinates me! My youngest has asthma and we’ve done a number of the things on your list except this. Well, he doesn’t order drinks in a bar with ice but you get my gist. ;-) Very helpful list, Melinda!

  • Plaid Science

    I have asthma, and have it well controlled with very little medication. I agree with everything you noted. I know my triggers, eat very well, exercise, etc.

    However, I now live is a place where the air is not as clean as Seattle. In five years of living in Seattle, I was in the emergency room only once for my asthma, but it was due to a co-working leaving formaldehyde and chloroform waste at his bench. ( I work in a research lab). But here in San Diego–I have been to the doctor’s and emergency room several times in less than 2 years. This has helped me to appreciate just how much other asthmatics suffer, especially if they cannot control where they live.

  • TracyDK

    My son has asthma. Currently he’s on a nasal allergy med and two inhalers. He’s 2. He’s the reason we’ve cut down on the chemicals in the house. Also, I removed all of my perfumes. I keep a couple of small bottles of perfumed lotion, but those are rarely used and mostly when his dad and I are going out. When I clean, I use a rag and hot water/vinegar etc to wipe down walls, shades and furniture. And though I have asthma it’s only brought on when I’m sick. And though I vacuum every day, I make sure he goes to his room and we shut him in there. I vacuum, wipe everything down quickly and let him out after around 30 minutes. (he’s highly allergic to dust mites)

    I’ve noticed that since he’s been born and I’ve been eliminating things in our home, my overall health has improved. I used to get sick at a drop of hat, but I only got sick once last year and I have a cold now, but a couple of years ago, I would be working on my 3rd illness of the year. I’m looking into Clean, I’ve made a request through our library. Hopefully they’ll get it. If not, I’ll just request it for my birthday which is coming up. :)

  • Thank you so much for these great tips. My nephew and niece have asthma and I’ll share this with my sister.

  • Kendra

    Very timely for us. I’m doing an elimination diet for my colicky newborn, and am AMAZED at how much better I feel. I’m less puffy and some redness in my face has mostly gone away. Don’t know what it is yet, since I’m in the first stages, but am just astonished by the difference in my appearance. I’m convinced everyone should do an elmination diet at some point.

    My husband has allergies and asthma, and I’m trying to convince him to try it… he says he wants to wait until I figure out what to eat (because at first I thought I would starve from a lack of figuring out how to eat this way). I’m going to print this out and put it on his computer :)

  • [...] I didn’t do it over night.  Check out this post to find out more about what I’ve done: 25 Ways I’ve Improved My Asthma. [...]

  • Such an excellent list, I do many of these things too. It’s amazing how all the little things we do add up to improved health. And a side benefit that we’re better off without all the toxic and fragrant things anyway. Congratulations on all the improvement you’ve seen with your asthma.

  • Mazie Gentner

    My sister is finding bronchitis treatment alternative medicines. She has a mild asthma too so this is a good guide for her. I think we will have a slight problem with that first tip because we share the same room. I will just keep put my fragrant products in my cabinet. Do you think that will help?

  • Some great tips on how to improve asthma and make living with asthma much easier. Something else to consider is the quality of the air in your home, as this can have a drastic effect on your health. Damp air in your home may lead to the growth of mould which can cause allergic reactions and also act as a trigger to worsen asthma symptoms.

    Keep the air in your home dry by opening windows (particularly when showering/bathing), avoiding drying clothes indoors (and if you do, keep the windows in that room open) and mopping up spillages promptly to ensure the liquid does not evaporate into the air in your home.

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