Breathe Deeper… Prepping for Asthma, Part II: Three Management Ideas

Part I of this series had some ideas on having less asthma.  But what if you do have it, and it’s hanging on like a bad house guest, and normal medical care isn’t available?  There are some suggestions here that may (or may not) be worth considering.  I’m not a physician, so what you’re getting are ideas based on reading the literature on asthma with a prepping mindset.

Breath training

I’m leading with this one for a couple of reasons.  One is that it has shown to be widely effective for reducing the intensity of attacks (often measured in the studies by the reduced use of rescue inhalers by the subjects)1  The other reason is that it’s a double-dip remedy.  It turns out that many asthmatics have anxiety issues — hardly surprising that feeling as if you might not get enough air at any moment in the future can make a person anxious, is it? Because there’s a feedback mechanism between our moods and how we breathe, applying these slowing, calming breathing methods may reduce anxiety as well as asthma.

It appears that many asthmatic persons have a habit of hyperventilation: breathing too fast and deep.  Besides encouraging anxiety, that can trigger asthma attacks and make them worse (probably by increasing the cooling and drying of the airways, and adding extra inhaled irritants).  Therefore, a lot of the anti-asthma breathing training is about getting the person to take slower, deeper breaths.  Breathing through the nose is thought to be important, both for slowing breathing and giving the nasal passages a chance to do their job of warming, cleaning, and humidifying the incoming air.  Bringing the breath in by using the lower abdominal muscles, rather than working the upper chest like a bellows, is also recommended.2

The spiritual aspects of yoga are your own business to take or leave, but the breathing patterns work for reducing asthma incidence and intensity.

It might be worth it to get some individualized training from a respiratory therapist.  If you don’t think so, or just want to test the waters, here’s a site that has some very simple suggestions:  http://www.healthcentral.com/slideshow/7-breathing-exercises-to-control-asthma#slide=8

This is about breath training, so it’s most effective if one makes a habit of it, not waits until an attack to try and institute it.

Antihistamines and related drugs

A lot of  asthma is caused by allergic reactions.  Antihistamines (such as diphenhydramines, trade name Benadryl, loratidine, and certizine) reduce allergic reactions.  So why aren’t these common and reasonably safe drugs normally used for asthma?  Because they’re not the most efficient choice.  However, the best drugs for asthma are prescription medications, and therefore difficult to stockpile against emergency.  However, the antihistamines are known to be helpful as part of asthma therapy4.  Half a loaf might be better than none.  Those drugs are found in all my med kits anyway, as they’re useful in many settings.

There’ve been days we’ve been very glad to have diphenhydramine and loratidine in the med kits…and that’s without having the asthma to deal with.


This option goes last, because it’s one of those two-edged swords. On one hand, when the air is very dry (common in winter), this irritates the lining of the respiratory tract and can trigger asthma.  Have you noticed how exerting in the cold triggers coughing?  It’s the same reaction.  Keeping the air more humid can both reduce the irritation and make the respiratory mucous thinner so it recycles as it’s supposed to; and the Mayo clinic recommends the practice.  The flip side is that one has to be careful about the method.  Using electric humidifiers without proper cleaning can promote mold growth, and that triggers asthma in some people.  Cleaning them with potentially lung-irritating chemicals that put residues in the air is a surprisingly common mistake as well.  

On the up side, this method is dead easy to employ even when using emergency-style heating such as fireplaces or propane heaters (ventilate carefully please!).  A shallow dish of water set near the heat source and replaced often to discourage molds and such does the trick nicely.

Sure, it’s low tech; but water dishes for animals are stable, have a high surface area, and are really easy to clean. Set one by the fire and you have a humidifier.

Are any or all of these options optimal?  Nope.  Still, when times get tough you do what you can; and it’s best to be armed with both the preps and the knowledge.

1Mike Thomas, Anne Bruton. Breathe 2014 10: 312-322; DOI: 10.1183/20734735.008414

2Bruton A, Kirby S, Arden-Close E, et al. The BREATHE study: Breathing REtraining for Asthma: Trial of Home Exercises. A protocol summary of a randomised controlled trial. Prim Care Respir J 2013; 22: PS1–PS7.

3 By Cornelius383 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

4Walsh, Gary. Second Generation Histamines in Asthma Therapy. Am J Resp Med 2002; 1(1):27-34.


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