What we all refer to as plain old asthma, is really a condition called “extrinsic asthma.” This is an asthma that is most commonly triggered by allergens and accounts for 90% of all asthma cases.
Then there is the little-known form of asthma called “intrinsic asthma,” of which I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with for a good chunk of my life. Just like with what I’ll refer to as “common asthma,” it produces feelings of tightness & pain in the chest, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. As the names would suggest, extrinsic asthma is triggered by external factors, and intrinsic by internal factors.
Common Asthma triggers:
• Allergens like dust, pet dander, pollen
• Environmental & chemical pollution like smoke, or occupational chemical exposure
• Food triggers like sulfites, food additives, and sugar
This is the form of asthma that affects both children and adults, and can be well-managed by avoiding triggers and by making dietary changes.
Intrinsic Asthma triggers:
• Exercise (aka “exercise-induced” asthma)
• Cold air (aka “cold-induced” asthma or “my gym makes a killing off me in the winter” asthma)
• Air that is too dry or too damp
Intrinsic asthma tends to develop in adulthood (although mind developed as a teen), and is more chronic and persistent than common asthma. Studies show that most sufferers of intrinsic asthma are women.
Here are my observations about this particular form of asthma:
• Unlike with my husband’s extrinsic asthma, I’ve found inhalers do not help me.
• There appears to be a genetic factor. My mother has the exact same cold-induced asthma that I have. But she also has extrinsic triggers, which is known as “mixed asthma.” I believe this is why I developed it as a teenager instead of after the age of 30 like most do.
• Mine is triggered by both cold & exercise. Once the thermometer drops below 5 degrees, the wheezing immediately kicks in with my first breath in. (Being born an Eskimo would have proved deadly for me!) When I combine the two trigger it’s pretty severe, so I have to wait until the temps hit 50’s or higher to exert myself outdoors.
• I’ve also noticed an interesting difference regarding caffeine. While the symptoms of regular asthma improve with immediate caffeine intake, my intrinsic asthma symptoms can actually be triggered by caffeine. When consuming little to no caffeine prior to a workout, my asthma is sometimes barely noticeable. Today, I went wild and consumed 250 mg of caffeine (equivalent to about 2 cups of coffee) before my workout, and the sharp chest pain was intense and immediate.
Top 10 tips for treating Intrinsic Asthma:
1. Quit smoking. Cigarettes do an incredible amount of damage to the lungs.
2. Boost your immune system. Replace unhealthy junk with whole, real foods, with a focus on cultured & fermented foods.
3. Maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds put extra pressure on your lungs.
4. Use anti-inflammatory herbs daily like turmeric, ginger or boswellia.
5. Eliminate dairy. Dairy is mucous-forming and causes congestion.
6. Increase your omega 3 fatty acids. They have a very powerful anti-inflammatory effect. See “Top Ten Reasons to Eat Raw Walnuts.”
7. Minimize your exposure to cold. Cover your mouth with a buff or scarf to warm the cold air before it hits your lungs.
8. Exercise indoors in the winter.
9. Keep your workouts moderate, and be in tune with your body. If your chest begins to hurt, ease back until the pain subsides.
10. Manage stress. Both types of asthma can also be triggered by stress or anxiety, so utilize stress-relieving methods to prevent it from affecting your physical self.
Megan Normansell (Kerkhoff), CHC, AADP, CFH
Certified Holistic Practitioner/Holistic Nutrition/Herbalist/Wild Edibles Guide
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