To unstick your breathing equipment, drink plenty of fluids. Water and other beverages act as natural expectorants, keeping mucus thin and coughable, says Doris J. Rapp, author of Allergies and Your Family (Sterling Publishing). She recommends drinking one-half to one cup of liquid every waking hour, if at all possible. Just be sure you don’t drink cold beverages – the chill can shock sensitive airways into spasms. And be careful to avoid drinks that contain cola or food dyes, common asthma triggers.
Taking your beverages hot helps even more. A warm drink acts as a natural bronchodilator, or airway relaxer, as it glides past respiratory passages. Drinking soup or herb tea when you feel an attack coming on will do fine.
‘Sometimes a warm liquid relaxes the bronchial tubes and you may not even need to use your bronchodilator spray,’ says Dr Falliers. ‘We’ve had kids in the hospital for treatment, and when they can’t breathe, we try to get them to drink something warm, maybe just water or something with a little more flavor, like hot apple cider. They relax, control the panic and start breathing quietly again.’
Controlling panic is a big part of controlling asthma. If you know you’re an asthmatic and begin to sense an attack coming on, you may tend to panic and fight for air. That tightens your chest further. For children, the anxiety is heightened if they see Mum or Dad panic, too. If your child has asthma, you can help by simply trying to appear calm and confident, no matter how frantic you may actually feel. The sight of a reassuring adult in itself may help the youngster.
Relaxation, in fact, is such a useful shield against asthma that many doctors are teaching child and adult asthmatics variations of the relaxation technique. Because it loosens tightened muscles surrounding airways, relaxation is a form of protection that can be used whenever an asthmatic feels an attack coming on.
In a subconscious effort not to tax temperamental lungs, asthmatics tend to take short, shallow breaths. Doctors call it ‘stingy breathing’. By filling and emptying only the top portion of the lungs, however, asthmatics don’t pull in enough oxygen. During an attack they get even less. ‘The average asthmatic is breathing at only 60 or 70 per cent of capacity,’ Dr Falliers told us. ‘And during an asthma attack, that can drop to 20 per cent.’ In the throes of an asthma attack, you may actually turn blue for lack of oxygen.
‘But if you’re having an asthma attack, you don’t think about breathing physiology and oxygen metabolism,’ says Dr Falliers. ‘You just think of how to get your next breath.’ By learning to breathe deeply and efficiently, you can increase the amount of oxygen you take in, so an attack isn’t nearly as disabling.