Chiropractic can treat a variety of medical conditions, but can chiropractic care treat asthma?
What is Asthma?
Asthma is chronic, and the condition involves the lungs’ airways. The bronchial tubes are the airways in the lungs. These become inflamed in patients, swelling and tightening when a patient experiences a trigger. As a result, it is hard for air to move around the lungs. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and possibly a tight feeling in the chest.1 The coughing most often happens at night or in the early part of the morning. This disorder often starts in childhood, but it can impact people of all ages. In the US, over “25 million people are known to have asthma…(and) 7 million…are children”. Airways are tubes that are designed to carry the air in and out of the lungs, but people with this condition have chronically inflamed airways, making them sensitive and swollen, and leading them to “react strongly to certain inhaled substances”. As a result of this reaction, the muscles surrounding the airways tighten, narrowing the airways and leading to less air flow. The airway cells may also produce more mucus, which is sticky, and this thick liquid can make the airways narrow further. At times, the symptoms are mild and resolve after little or no treatment, but they can worsen. If they are intense, it is called “an asthma attack” or “flareups or exacerbations”. It is necessary for patients to treat symptoms as soon as they occur to prevent them from worsening, as severe attacks can be fatal.2
What Causes Asthma?
Family history of allergies and asthma can lead to a person being more prone to developing the condition. Often, people with this disorder also have allergies (allergic asthma). Some have symptoms from occupational asthma (gases, dust, fumes, or harmful substances inhaled on the job). Childhood asthma impacts many children and “the majority of children who develop asthma do so before the age of five”. Exercise induced asthma (EIA), or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) is one of the possible triggers of this condition. Sometimes even healthy people can have symptoms just because of physical activity. It is important to stay active to maintain health, so healthcare professionals can assist patients with controlling symptoms surrounding times of exercise. There is no cure for this disorder, but it can be managed, leading to a better quality of life.3 It is crucial that patients work with their healthcare professionals to understand triggers that lead to attacks so that symptoms can be prevented. Healthcare professionals can perform breathing tests to check for this condition, the most common one being spirometry, where a spirometer is used “to measure the amount and speed of the air you blow out”. To children, a healthcare professional factors in if the child has “frequent wheezing with colds” and if there is a parent with asthma, if the child has allergic symptoms (such as eczema), and if the child wheezes even if they do not have an infection or cold. Lung function tests are difficult to do with young children, so a doctor may “use a 4- to 6-week trial of asthma medicines to see if they make a difference…in symptoms”.4
Triggers and Risk Factors
Genetics and exposures to some environmental elements both contribute to the respiratory disorder. In addition, “in infancy and early childhood, certain respiratory infections have been shown to cause inflammation and damage the lung tissue”. Exposure to viral infections, allergens, or other irritants at a young age, before the immune system matures, can lead to childhood asthma, whereas certain dusts and chemicals in the workplace can lead to adult-onset asthma. One big risk factor for this disorder is smoking. Not only are the smokers themselves affected, but those who experience secondhand smoke and children who were born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy could also develop this condition. Air pollution (smog, ozone) exposure also is a risk factor. This especially concerns those who grew up or who live in urban areas. Even obesity is a risk factor for the disorder, which is thought to be due to “low-grade inflammation in the body that occurs with extra weight”. Unfortunately, patients who are obese “often use more medications, suffer worse symptoms and are less able to control their asthma”.5
Generally, medical treatment options for disorder include “anti-inflammatory and bronchodilator asthma inhalers…oral medications…(and) “drugs delivered in an asthma nebulizer or breathing machine”.6 Some prescriptions are long-term medications aimed at control and prevention, while others are for quick relief. Even allergy medications may be prescribed. In terms of the control medications, used daily, there are inhaled corticosteroids, which have lower side effects than oral corticosteroids. Other control medications are leukotriene modifiers and, unlike the inhaled corticosteroids, which need to be used for days or weeks to reach their benefits, these can alleviate symptoms for up to a day. However, the leukotriene modifies have, in rare situations, “been linked to psychological reactions, such as agitation, aggression, hallucinations, depression and suicidal thinking”. Another category of long-term medications are beta agonists, which are inhaled medications, but these could increase the patient’s risk of having a severe attack, and therefore need to be used with an inhaled corticosteroid. There are also combination inhalers, which contain beta agonists with the corticosteroid, but the risk of severe attacks remains. Theophylline is a pill a patient can take daily to keep airways open by relaxing muscles surrounding the airways. In the category of short-term medications for relief during an attack, there are short-acting beta agonists (albuterol), ipratropium, and oral or IV corticosteroids (prednisone). The corticosteroids, however, “can cause serious side effects when used long term”. If patients find asthma worsened by allergies, they can receive immunotherapy (allergy shots) or use omalizumab (an injection that alters the immune system).7
Alternative Treatments and Can Chiropractic Care Treat Asthma?
Cases of asthma are increasing, possibly due to many factors, such as decreased air quality, environmental chemicals, food allergens, and stress. With all of the side effects of medications, patients may consider some alternative treatments, “such as biofeedback, meditation, yoga, and stress management, as well as massage, chiropractic manipulation, breathing exercises, and acupuncture” for relaxation. This could help with stress factors that trigger this condition by helping to prevent attacks. Preliminary data from an Australian “multi-site clinical trial on chiropractic management of asthma” has shown some patients to have “decreases in physical asthma symptoms and cortisol levels,” according to Dr. Anthony Rosner. A chiropractic neurologist, Dr. Gail Henry, noted that chiropractors can be part of the healthcare team managing the patient because DCs can “give (patients) a full-scale evaluation…assess their physical and neurological status, their lifestyle, diet, and stressors; and help the patients increase motor coordination, and improve the work of respiratory and gut muscles”. Some other treatment tips include using home air filters, covering pillows and mattresses with dust covers, avoiding sulfites and MSG, choosing a vegetarian diet, including fish oil and vitamin C supplements in the diet, and stress reduction.8 The results of a recent study of children receiving 15 chiropractic adjustments showed “an overall improvement in lung capacity”. In a Danish study, “93% of the children who were assigned to receive chiropractic treatments reported improvement in their child’s asthma condition”.9
Learn about chiropractic and allergies.