I’ve been looking for new, natural ways to relive my asthma and allergy symptoms.
The nose is an elegant structure, beautifully designed for essential and life-supporting functions. It is not simply an air-intake port. When the nose works well, it filters, warms, and humidifies the air we breathe—which is no small task in today’s environment.
The nose is the first major defense the human body has to protect us from our polluted world. Without this filtering mechanism, millions of impurities would be allowed to reach our fragile lung tissues, damaging the gas-exchanging membranes deep within our chests.
The Nose, Asthma, and Lungs
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects your airways, the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are inflamed, making them swollen and sensitive. They tend to react strongly to things that you are allergic to or substances your tissues find irritating. When the airways react, they get narrower and produce more mucus, and less air flows through to your lung tissue. This causes symptoms like wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing; these symptoms tend to be worse at night and in the early morning.
There are many nasal irritants in our world; the tissues in the nose are very tender and react almost immediately after being exposed to irritants. First, the nasal tissues swell. Then increased mucus production occurs; the mucus gets thicker and stickier. The filtering hairs (called cilia) become clogged. As a result, all the normal drainage systems fail to function. Symptoms of chronically obstructed noses and sinuses include asthma exacerbations, increased coughing, poor exercise tolerance, fatigue, and even bloody noses.
The modern medical provider helps children and adults with asthma manage their symptoms with inhalers, steroids, and nebulizers to vaporize medication into the lungs. In this healthcare system, too little attention is focused on avoidance of individual triggers and prevention of asthma exacerbations. We can help ourselves naturally by decreasing our exposure to toxic loads of irritants.
Some of the more common asthma triggers include allergens, environmental irritants, and viral infections. Families with children who have asthma report that this disease influences a range of decisions concerning home furnishings, carpets, household spending, holidays, pets, and their general lifestyle. They do their best to control allergies by removing allergens and irritants from the home; they avoid all sources of smoke, stop smoking indoors, and control the home environment for humidity, dust, and animal dander.
We can’t, however, avoid every single irritant. We have to be able to walk in nature, play at the park, and breathe the air. What can we do when we are unavoidably exposed to allergens and asthma triggers? It’s simple: Wash the filter! Wash the nose!
Anyone older than 2 years can learn to wash their nose, which removes many allergy and asthma triggers before they have a chance to cause inflammation. Because triggers are a primary cause of asthma exacerbations, it only makes sense to include regular nasal washing as part of an aggressive preventive program. The nose is the filter that protects our lungs. Keep the filter clean, avoid asthma triggers, and there will be fewer asthma exacerbations. Prevention is always better than treatment.
Consider this: We breathe 10,000 liters of air per day through the nose. We produce one pint to one quart of mucus per day. Cilia function 17 percent more
effectively after washing with hypertonic saline.
Using buffered nasal wash solutions improves the flow of mucus, improves the filtering of the nose hairs, and makes the process comfortable. Less than half
of asthmatics are taught the importance of knowing and avoiding their particular asthma triggers. And 80 percent of ear and sinus infections—common precipitators of asthma—will resolve with nasal washing alone.
But what do the medical specialists say?
Benjamin D. Francisco, PhD and nurse practitioner, specializes in pediatric allergy, asthma, and cystic fibrosis in a large teaching hospital. His experience includes a keen interest in prevention and education. Dr. Francisco has become a leader in this field and lectures extensively to doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists.
“Use of hypertonic nasal rinses has reduced the need for more invasive and risky treatments in our clinical practice,” he says. “When the nose is in good condition, it is protective against a range of other problems, including worsening asthma, shortness of breath with exertion related to nasal obstruction, and the development of bacterial infections in the sinuses.”
“In my practice, I approach my patients with asthma as any family physician would. The difference is this: I also evaluate the nose and sinuses,” adds George Prica, MD, a practicing family physician who sees patients of all ages with asthma. “Without addressing these areas, the asthma is only partially treated. In fact, when upper airways are maintained clean and free of irritants, asthma remains quiet. The last thing I wish to offer my patient is another medication, on top of antihistamines, decongestants, bronchodilators, nasal and inhaled steroids, and perhaps antibiotics.
Dr. Prica suggests a good nasal wash as a simple but effective strategy to clean the upper airway: “Over the years, I have witnessed a reduction of asthma episodes in addition to a reduced dependency on medications when nasal washing is incorporated into a daily habit.”
In today’s world, there are plenty of pollutants—and plenty of medications that come with significant side effects. There is also cost to consider: not only the cost of healthcare, but lost time at work or school. It is common sense to begin the habit of nasal irrigation early in life so it becomes part of daily practice, much like brushing teeth. It costs little and brings a breath of fresh air—naturally!