There’s over 5 million people dealing with asthma in the UK, but many sufferers have little understanding of what exactly causes asthma or how they can treat it.
We’ve called on Dr Jenna Macciochi, PhD, to break down everything you need to know about asthma and the best wellness tips to help you manage the condition.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a form of allergy and allergies are caused by our immune system. Our immune system has evolved to defend us against infection that could cause disease. To break it down really simply, normally our immune system is able to tell the difference between things that can cause us harm (e.g. bacterial and viruses) and things that we encounter which are harmless (known as allergens). Allergies happen when the immune system get that wrong and the immune system starts to attack things in our environment which don’t cause us harm e.g. pollen, animal dander, dust mites, food. In the case of asthma, this unruly immune response is taking place in the airways of our lungs in response to an allergen in our environment when it is breathed in.
What causes asthma?
To develop asthma, we must become ‘sensitised’ to an allergen. Scientists still don’t understand why some people develop asthma, but studies suggest a complex interplay of genetic factors combined with environmental change (e.g. fewer childhood infections in childhood, reduced exposure to ‘dirty’ environments (e.g. farms) and modern changes in dietand lifestyle.
Steps you can take to keep asthma at bay
– There is no cure but several prescription medicines are prescribed to manage symptoms. “Mostly, these drugs are in the form of inhalers such as fast acting bronchodilators, which stop the airway muscles contracting and restrict breathing during an asthma attack. Long term preventer inhalers target the inflammation to try and stop it from causing long term damage,” she explained.
– It might seem obvious but not smoking and avoiding areas of poor air quality can also help.
– You can also aim to eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruit and vegetables, which provide anti-oxidants and polyphenols, which are used by the immune system to regulate inflammation. “Omega 3 from oily fish or supplements is also anti-inflammatory thought to assist with symptoms by antagonising the pro-inflammatory pathways in asthma,” she adds.
– There have been some studies on maintaining good Vitamin D levels (which we mainly get from sunshine), as having a positive correlation with better asthma control. Time to book that long-awaited holiday?