If you suffer with asthma, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that around 5.4 million people in the UK have the condition – roughly one in 12 adults and one in every 11 children.
While it’s a very common condition, medical science is yet to find a cure for asthma. However, the symptoms can be managed.
For National Asthma Day, we’re looking at the causes and symptoms of asthma, how people living with the condition can manage it and whether diet plays a role in making the condition worse.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition which affects your airways, making them narrow and swell. This, combined with the production of extra mucus makes breathing difficult, triggering fits of coughing and wheezing.
For some, the symptoms of asthma can be mild, while for others an attack can be both debilitating and life threatening.
What causes asthma?
The exact cause of asthma is unknown, but there are a variety of triggers understood to affect those prone to asthma attacks. While genetics, pollution and over sterilised environments have all been pointed to as potential causes, there is no definitive proof to link them.
But we do know that there are a number of factors which can increase your risk of asthma. These include:
- A family history of asthma
- An allergy related condition, such as eczema, a food allergy or hay fever
- Being born premature or your mother smoking during pregnancy
- Exposure to tobacco smoke as a child
- Having had bronchiolitis in childhood
As well as risk factors, there are also a range of potential triggers. These include:
- Allergies to dust mites, pollen, or pet fur
- Certain medications
- Colds and flu
- Mould and damp
- Smoke, fumes, and pollution
- Weather, such as sudden changes in temperature
What are the symptoms of asthma?
The symptoms of asthma vary from person to person. Some find that the symptoms are triggered or worsened by certain environments, or activities like exercise. Others have symptoms all the time.
Common symptoms include:
- Coughing or wheezing attacks
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Trouble sleeping due to shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing
- Wheezing when exhaling
Asthma is a condition which changes over time and can worsen. Signs that this is happening include:
- Increased frequency of the symptoms above
- The need to use an inhaler more often.
To check the progression of the condition, a medical professional uses a device called a peak flow meter to measure how well the lungs are working.
How is asthma managed?
Severe asthma can be debilitating but there are ways to effectively manage the symptoms and reduce the chances of attacks and flare ups. These include:
- Find ways to exercise that don’t trigger an attack, as this helps build stamina and lung capacity
- Having a good asthma management plan
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Quitting smoking
- Using a daily preventative inhaler
Making changes to your diet? Keep an eye on changes to your health
When you first change your diet, it’s natural to notice a few changes to your health, too, as your body gets used to the adjustment. If you’re switching to more plant-based alternatives with a high fibre content, you may notice an increase in bloating or flatulence as your body processes your new diet.
But if this continues, or you notice other symptoms such as itchy skin, eczema, headaches, or joint pain, or you find that your stomach complains continue, there may be something in your diet that doesn’t agree with you. You may have started to eat more of a trigger food you didn’t previously include in your diet.
If you’ve been having trouble adjusting to new foods, or have symptoms that don’t seem to go away, you may want to take a closer look at your diet with food intolerance testing – a quick and convenient way to determine your unique dietary DNA.
Can diet trigger asthma?
When it comes to managing your asthma, it’s beneficial to take a holistic approach. Considering the impact your diet may have on your symptoms is something that is often overlooked but could help provide important information to help you optimise your health and wellbeing.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerances can occur when your body’s immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat, releasing antibodies to fight it. This reaction can result in a range of inflammatory symptoms, such as IBS and bloating, headaches, brain fog, skin complaints like eczema or acne, joint pain or respiratory conditions like rhinitis or asthma.
While food allergies are quite rare, affecting around only 2% of the population, it’s estimated that around 45% of UK adults have a food intolerance. While for some, the symptoms are quite mild and manageable, for others, the impact their trigger foods have on their health can be debilitating.
Do any specific foods cause asthma?
Although there are foods, such as dairy and gluten, which commonly tend to get the blame for a variety of symptoms, when it comes to food intolerance, there really are no hard and fast rules.
While experts generally agree that it’s a good idea to reduce your intake of sugar, alcohol, and processed foods, it’s important to look at more tailored advice if you want to make informed choices about your diet.
An ingredient which causes problems for one person, may be completely fine for another. This is why it’s important not to base dietary decisions on what may have worked for someone else. You may end up avoiding foods which do not cause you problems and miss out on vital nutrients as a result.
Take control of your diet
Getting to the bottom of a food intolerance can be frustrating. A common recommendation is the elimination diet, where you remove one food at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel. But this process can take a long time. And, although many of us commonly react to a few different ingredients, the elimination diet is often abandoned when the first trigger food is found, leaving an incomplete picture of what’s causing the problem.
Get answers faster with Smartblood
When it comes to food intolerance testing, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable laboratory testing company.
At Smartblood, we offer a comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own trigger foods.
Our home-to-laboratory service gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days.
Our food intolerance tests include a telephone consultation with our BANT registered Nutritional Therapist. This additional support is there to help you understand your results and put a plan together to make safe, sustainable changes to optimise your diet.