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Bronchial Spasms--Causes and Cures

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November 7, 2010, Last Updated May 16, 2015

By MUIREANN PRENDERGAST, Contributing Columnist

For some people, breathing difficulties are just a mere nuisance. But for others, those who suffer from bronchial spasms, just breathing can complicate life’s simple daily activities, so that even climbing a stairs or running for a bus is a painful ordeal.

Bronchial spasms are all too familiar to those of you who suffer from asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America there are 20 million of you in the country.  You know the symptoms--- a sudden constriction in the muscles in the walls of the bronchioles causing coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest.

What exactly causes bronchial spasms? Is there anything we can do to prevent them or, at least, reduce their occurrence? Are there any natural remedies such as foods or herbs that can help to prevent bronchial spasms?

What is a Bronchial Spasm?

First things first.  Bronchial spasms  are of 2 different types --- "acute" and "paradoxical ".  As a 2005 publication by Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Sciences, North Chicago reveals, "acute" bronchial spasm occur following the sudden constriction in the muscle walls of the lungs.  These type of acute spasms are dangerous, as they can lead to the production of mucus which can irritate and block the airway even further, making breathing more difficult.

"Paradoxical" bronchial spasms occur when a medication used to treat bronchospasm has an adverse affect, possibly due to an allergic reaction to the medication involved, and aggravates the condition.

What Causes a Bronchial Spasm?

Many things can trigger a bronchial spasm or asthmatic episode, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

What are the common triggers?  Common triggers of bronchial spasms include allergens like dust, pollens, molds and pet hair. Irritants in the air like smoke from cigarettes and charcoal grills are also factors. (Read more about the surprising source of most household dust.)

Respiratory infections from cold and flu can also prompt a spasm as can sudden changes in the weather. Whatever causes an asthma sufferer to breathe more heavily such as exercise or strong emotion can also induce bronchial spasm.

The Allergy Foundation also reminds us that susceptibility to bronchial spasm as a feature of asthma can also be a hereditary condition.

Is There Anything We Can Do to Prevent or Reduce Bronchial Spasms?

Here's the good news. Studies show there are numerous natural methods to improve the health of our lungs and make us less prone to bronchial spasms. However, it is imperative to consult with your health practitioner before embarking on any of them.

Here is the list of 10 natural remedies for bronchial spasms:

1. Breath Control

In the 1960s Ukrainian doctor Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko developed the theory that asthmatics chronically "over-breathe" and should be taught to breathe less to reduce the symptoms of asthma which include bronchial spasms. This Buteyko method is a physical therapy approach to improving lung health also promotes nasal breathing which purifies air before it reaches the lungs and maintains high levels of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide in the lungs compounds which are soothing to them.

2. Thyme

A 2009 study carried out by The Institute of Medicinal Chemistry at Munster, Germany, showed that the herb Thyme with its high level of flavonoids has anti-spasmodic effects when tested on rats and mice. These were most evident on the tracheal muscle.

To treat my bronchial spasms with thyme, I did the following. Fill a bowl with hot water. Add thyme. The hot water will release the herb's aroma. Bend over the bowl. You may want to also cover your head with a towel so that the vapors will be trapped around your head and nose. After about 15 minutes, you will breathe easier. Leave a bowl of thyme on the floor next to the head of your bed to aid your breathing at night. It's a great way to relieve congestion in general.

3. Black Cohosh Extract

A 1991 Japanese study focused on the Black Cohosh herb as a spasmolytic agent with sedative properties that relax muscles and calm nerves. Black Cohosh can be taken in tincture form.

4. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

A 2003 study carried out at Indiana University in Bloomington found that fish oil supplements reduced the risk of bronchospasms in elite athletes. The study focused on elite athletes as being particularly at risk to bronchial spasm due to their risk of hyperventilation, prolonged exposure to allergens and bronchial irritants, and excessive inhalation of cold, dry air.

5. Maintain Your Ideal Weight

A 2004 study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia, into the triggers for asthma and its concurrent symptoms including bronchial spasms in adults and children found that obesity was chief among them. The study found that participants at an ideal weight were less likely to suffer from the condition.

6. Stop Smoking

The 2004 CDC Georgia study also highlighted smoking as an important factor in the development of the condition. This suggests that quitting smoking is critical in preventing bronchial spasms.

7. Cut out Meat

A 1994 study undertaken at California’s Loma Linda University found that participants on vegan and vegetarian diets were less likely to suffer from asthmatic conditions than those who consumed red meat regularly.

8. Cut down on your salt intake

A 2004 UK study carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Women and Children's Health concluded that low sodium intake can be linked to an improvement in pulmonary function.

9. Know what foods you are allergic to and avoid them

A 2003 UK study carried out at the Royal London Hospital pointed to the link between food allergy and asthma. The study concluded that both as atopic, or caused by a hereditary predisposition towards certain antigens, and therefore frequently co-exist. Once these foods are removed from the diet an improvement in asthmatic symptoms, such as bronchial spasm, are generally noticed.

10. Eat a Healthy Diet Rich in Fruit and Vegetables

Eating a healthy balanced diet replete with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables is a great way to reduce the risk of asthma as well as improving symptoms in those who already suffer from the condition, according to numerous studies, among them a 2004 study carried out jointly by Dr. Ruoling Chen of China and Anthony Seaton of the UK. Eating more fruits and vegetables lowered the risk for asthma even among smokers in a rural village in China.

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