Reviewed by Dr Andre Budihardjo, MM and Physician Lim Sock Ling
6 Ways to Heal Asthma Symptoms with Herbal Remedies
Published | 8 min read
Asthma is a chronic disease that is characterized by airway inflammation. While it's incurable, there are ways to ease asthma symptoms naturally.
Asthma is a chronic non-communicable disease that is characterized by airway inflammation, which narrows the airways and makes it difficult to breathe. This leads to asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and even death. The exact cause is unknown but is typically related to genetics, the environment, and other triggers such as dander or food.
Categorized as either allergic asthma or nonallergic asthma. Allergic asthma is caused by allergens. Nonallergic asthma is caused by triggers from the environment.
While asthma is not a treatable disease, you can manage it by controlling symptoms and the risk of future disease complications such as cardiovascular diseases or stroke.
Below, you’ll find out more about asthma attack symptoms and how to alleviate them with herbal remedies.
What are Some Common Asthma Symptoms and Triggers?
An asthma attack occurs when you are exposed to triggers, which is different for every person. This can be related to dust mites, pollen, mold, pets, certain chemicals, smoke, pollution, and waste from pets such as roaches, to name a few factors.
From the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, asthma symptoms occur when phlegm blocks the vital force (qi) pathways. “This blockage prevents lung qi from descending, causing breathlessness. Chronic asthma is mostly due to kidney deficiencies. Therefore, during an asthma attack, the emphasis would be to remove the phlegm,” explains TCM physician Lim Sock Ling.
Asthma symptoms in adults can vary over time and in intensity, depending on the person. Some common symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe and happen every day or once in a while. Symptoms are typically brought on by triggers, which usually start in childhood, but in the case of nonallergic asthma can occur later in life.
Below, we will go into more about the triggers of asthma.
Animal dander, pollen, roaches, mold, and dust
Pet dander from cats or dogs is one of the most common asthma triggers. Those with asthma probably have any pets, but if you do it’s important to keep them washed regularly, not touch them, and keep an air purifier with HEPA filter in common rooms.
Outdoor exposure to pollen can trigger an asthma attack or worsen symptoms in people who are sensitive to pollen-producing plants. Avoid areas with pollen-producing plants, especially in the mornings and late evenings when dander levels are high. If you have to go out, wear a pollen-filtering mask.
Cockroaches and mice dander and waste can put you at risk of developing allergic asthma. They come out at night looking for food. Store food in sealed containers, keep garbage closed, and keep spray-free traps in areas away from children.
Indoor mold growth is common in many homes, typically in wet and damp areas like the kitchen, basement, or bathroom. Reduce mold growth in your home by cleaning and drying it completely, use a hygrometer to test your humidity levels, use a dehumidifier, and avoid using dust-collecting rugs.
Dust is a common trigger in many homes. For prevention, wash your bedding regularly, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and don’t use goose or down pillows and blankets.
Tobacco smoke is not good for anyone. Cigarette smoke and secondhand smoke can trigger asthma.
Not only can they trigger an attack, but tobacco smoke can also accelerate the worsening of lung functions. Smoking can also impair the effects of corticosteroids – steroid hormones that help reduce inflammation in the body. Remember, stay away from smokers, and of course, don’t smoke yourself.
Pollution and cleaning agents
The environment — and its growing pollution problem — can greatly trigger an asthma attack as well as chemicals and dust.
For environmental triggers, it is important to live in a less polluted and pay attention to air quality forecasts.
While it is important to keep your home clean, some cleaning agents can actually trigger an attack and weaken the lungs. Use a product from the EPA Safer Choice program, such as hydrogen peroxide or ethanol. Avoid products that contain bleach, ammonium, or have fragrances. When cleaning, also makes sure to wear gloves and keep the windows open to ensure airflow.
Seasonal weather changes that are accompanied by a rapid drop in temperature can also trigger asthma attacks due to an undermined circulation of lung qi. Factors such as cold, heat, or wind can disrupt lung qi circulation, and cause a phlegm build-up, leading to an attack. Even common seasonal illnesses can affect asthma such as the flu, common cold, or respiratory syncytial virus.
Herbal Remedies to Help With Asthma Symptoms
The World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted their dedication to improving the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of asthma on a global scale via the WHO Package of Essential Noncommunicable Disease Interventions (PEN).
Below, we are sharing more about some common TCM herbal remedies and how they can alleviate asthma attacks.
Ginkgo Biloba is one of the oldest living species of a tree that contains many anti-inflammatory compounds. This TCM herb restrains lung qi, thus relieving asthmatic coughs. According to a 2015 study, isolated ginkgolides from ginkgo blocked the compound that contributes to asthma symptoms, thus reducing symptoms and inflammation to the airways.
As with all TCM herbs, dosages vary per person. One important note, you should never eat the seeds raw and in excessive amounts. The reason is that ginkgo seeds contain toxins that will cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. Therefore, most over-the-counter ginkgo products use ginkgo biloba leaf extract which contains lesser amount of ginkgotoxins. You can find them conveniently in the forms of pills and capsules in appropriate doses.
Parents should consider administering pediatric tuina — an ancient massage technique that originated in China – to support phlegm removal, regulate lung qi (vital energy), and strengthen the different organ systems.
Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to treat the liver, stomach conditions, and overall well-being. The Schisandra fruit contains five flavors that assist with sleep and fatigue.
A 2014 study investigated the effects of schisandra on the airways and relieving breathlessness by restraining lung qi. Alternative to common asthma medicines like glucocorticoids.
This type of berry is available in many forms – powdered, extracts, capsules, pills, and even syrup. For those who like to enjoy a cup of herbal tea, infuse dried schisandra fruits and simmer for 15 minutes. You can also pound the dried fruits and add them to your protein shake or favorite juice, which will unlock the surprising tastes of this berry.
Turmeric also exhibits the ability to reduce bronchial inflammation in people with asthma. This ability attributes to curcumin, a compound of turmeric that blocks the release of inflammatory chemicals in white blood cells. There are plenty of ways to incorporate turmeric into your diet. You can use it as a cooking herb, or boil some grated turmeric to prepare it as a tea for maximum benefits.
A 2017 study found that turmeric can aid in the management of oxidative and inflammatory such as asthma. This herb contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects with the best results being from combined agents such as piperine (agent in black pepper).
Curcumin also inhibits the production of cytokines — a group of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity — which suggests the ability to keep other allergy-related diseases under control.
A non-steroidal blend of TCM herbs called ASHMI (anti-asthma herbal medicine intervention) includes the 3 ingredients:
- Lingzhi (Reishi mushrooms)
- Gan cao (Chinese licorice)
- Ku shen (shrubby sophora)
In a 2016 study, ASHMI reduced characteristics of asthma. This herb has a therapeutic effect on inflammation and bronchial constriction, the two main pathogenic mechanisms of asthma. It also increases the secretion of immunity-enhancing chemicals in the body and improves immune function.
When recuperating from asthma, treatment focuses on improving immunity by strengthening the spleen, kidneys, and lungs.
Physician Lim says, “At this juncture, Cordyceps would usually be helpful as it benefits both the lungs and kidneys. Individuals who are allergic to fungi must be cautious when consuming Cordyceps. When individuals suffer from flu symptoms or have a fever, they should not consume tonifying herbs like Cordyceps. It is often used in soups by double-boiling. Alternatively, the powdered form can also be encapsulated for consumption.”
You can also consume ingredients like Bai Zhu (white atractylodes rhizome), Chinese yam, longan, and red dates to improve the function of the spleen and reduce the production of phlegm. People with hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, ovarian, or uterine cancer, as well as endometriosis or uterine fibroids should consume Chinese yam cautiously, as it contains chemicals that will increase the level of estrogen in the body.
A medicinal mushroom for over 2,000 years. Lingzhi is made from different parts of the mushroom, including the mycelia, spores, and fruit body. Renowned for its numerous health benefits such as improving blood circulation, reducing fatigue, regulating the immune system, and its ability to alleviate asthma.
Look for products made from cracked lingzhi spores, as they have richer nutrients and allow faster absorption. It’s best to take it as a daily supplement to ensure the body has time to react to its bioactive compounds and reap its benefits.
The Ayurvedic system of medicine uses this herbaceous shrub to enhance the respiratory system and illnesses such as cough, cold, and asthma. It contains components like vasicine, luteolin, carotene, and vasakin.
Vasicine has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and bronchodilator qualities that can treat the common cold, coughs, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Vasa is the most beneficial when the leaves are smoked.
Herbal teas can also help reduce excess heat in the body, nourish the lungs, and relieve the symptoms of asthma.
Traditional medicine has become increasingly popular in the management of chronic respiratory disorders like asthma. Consult with your doctor if you’re interested in using herbal remedies for asthma.
- National Library of Medicine. 2000. Asthma. [Accessed on November 30, 2021]
- CDCs. 2020. Common Asthma Triggers. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- EPA. 2021. Safer Choice. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- World Health Organization. 2021. Asthma. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- World Health Organization. 2021. WHO package of essential noncommunicable (PEN) disease interventions for primary health care. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- Kaiser Permanente. 2021. Ginkgo. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- NCBI. 2014. Antiasthmatic effects of schizandrae fructus extract in mice with asthma. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- NCBI. 2017. Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- NCBI. 2016. The traditional Chinese herbal formula ASHMI inhibits allergic lung inflammation in antigen-sensitized and antigen-challenged aged mice. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- Clinical Education. 2018. New Studies Confirm the Power of Three Chinese Herbs for Asthma. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Safer Choice. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
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