The incidence of asthma in children is increasing at an astronomical rate. The death rate for asthma in children has increased by nearly 80% percent since 1980, and it has also become the leading health-related cause of school absence.
I'm an allergy and asthma specialist with many years of training on the subject, so you'd think I would have learned the "answers" to this growing problem. However, we as a society are still searching for answers of how to best treat and prevent problems associated with asthma and allergies.
In fact, I'm constantly searching for more natural solutions. Like many of you, I have a healthy sense of criticism for Western medicine. I want to boost my child's immune system and lower the inflammation-related conditions, like allergies and asthma, so that I use the lowest dose of medication possible.
Below is a compilation of treatments I am going to try for my patients and my own children for 28 days. I've done each of these separately before and seen great results, but I've never done all of them as a "package." Some of these have loads of evidence-based support, while others are taken from Eastern or natural medicine, meaning there's less hard data but thousands of years of experience to support their use.
I don't include experimental or questionable herbal treatments. I want what's best for my child, and am not willing to "test" out the next hottest new treatment. And while I have children in mind for these treatments, there's no reason they couldn't be applied to adults with similar issues.
1. Check vitamin D levels.
There's been a recent outpouring of data supporting the use of vitamin D for allergies and asthma in children. The optimal range remains controversial, but if your child is deficient (like mine was) — then 1000 to 2000 IU (for kids 5 and up) is the best dosing for immunomodulation.
Note: make that if you're testing your or your child's levels, the test should be for 25-hydroxyvitamin D, also called vitamin D3.
2. Eat at least 1 to 2 servings of fresh green vegetables a day.
Although very difficult to study, researchers have found benefits of high fruit and vegetable diet in children with allergies and asthma. If you already incorporate a lot of fresh vegetables daily, great. However, I find fruit easy to incorporate and green vegetables much more difficult. My "tricks" so far have been to add baby spinach to breakfast smoothies and a side with dinner.
3. Drink an Ayurvedic tonic daily.
The combination of ginger, lemon and some grated turmeric is a great herbal tonic for children suffering from allergies and asthma. This tea is perfect for kids because it's warm and mild enough in flavor for children to tolerate. Just add 3 to 5 gratings of fresh ginger, juice of half a lemon, honey or sweetener of choice, and 3 gratings of turmeric (or 1 teaspoon of dry turmeric).
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory that has compounds such as 6-gingerol, 8-gingerol and 6-shogaol, which work really well on these conditions, especially in conjunction with inhalers. Turmeric has been researched for its potential to treat cancer, allergies, autoimmune disease because its active ingredient, curcumin, is very good at modulating the immune system.
4. Hold the gluten.
Although every child is different, if you're looking for natural ways to decrease any inflammation like allergies and asthma, I would stop for at least two weeks. Then reintroduce it in small amounts.
5. Shower after going outside, or in the evening.
Showering after being outdoors helps wash off the pollens and pollution of the day. I recommend combining this with humidification from a cold mist humidifier. These are two extremely simple, but overlooked, practices that have the potential to improve children's allergies and asthma.
6. Add probiotic foods.
While probiotic foods are best, if you do use a supplement, make sure it's a high-quality one, which are usually found in the refrigerated section. New data on the microbiome in children and the progression to allergies and asthma support the idea that children need MORE bacteria in their lives not less.
I'm convinced that the key to boosting our children's immune systems is through increasing good bacteria. Though probiotics aren't a perfect solution, we just don't have any many good ways to increase the good gut bacteria. A good diet, playing in dirt and eating probiotic foods go a long way toward maintaining a healthy microbiome.
7. Practice Buteyko breathing.
This is a breathing technique that can help alleviate asthma or allergies. There are many online video, such as this one, that explain the technique for nasal or breathing symptoms.
This is of utmost importance for cell repair and immune function. If your child is not getting the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age, increase sleep by 20 minutes a day and stop when you reach the optimal amount.
9. Consider allergy desensitization.
There are many different ways to desensitize, but if your child is 5 or older, allergen desensitization or allergy shots are a good option.
In kids, it's been shown to be effective and safe. Allergy shots usually contain allergens that are specially prepared, purified and standardized versions of the ones in the air you breathe each day. Local honey, sublingual desensitization (allergy drops) and other forms of desensitization are other alternative options.
Most importantly, I want to stress that these natural techniques should be combined with the minimum effective dose of medications needed to control your child's symptoms. There is NO proven way to control an acute attack of allergies or asthma without using life-saving Western medications. As you know, asthma and allergic attacks can be severe and need immediate and aggressive emergency treatment in the ER.
You should have your children tested and evaluated by a board-certified allergy specialist, and have them take the minimum medications required to make them well. Then, work on these natural techniques to eventually wean them down.
Do you want to join me on the journey to address these issues in a more natural way? I have a simple, free, no-nonsense 28-day Family Asthma and Allergy Challenge to keep you (and me!) on track.