Asthma/ wheezing

17 March 2017.

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways – the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. Wheezing describes the type of ‘whistling’ breathing that an asthmatic response can produce.

When a person comes into contact with something that triggers their asthma, it causes their body to react in three ways [1]:

  1. The muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower
  2. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell
  3. Sticky mucus or phlegm sometimes builds up, which can narrow the airways even more.

Main symptoms: These reactions cause the airways to become narrower and irritated – making it difficult to breathe and leading to chest tightness, wheezing, or coughing [1].

Interestingly, asthma is very strongly related to the hormones involved in the menstrual cycle:

  • The incidence of asthma is massively affected by puberty. It is more common in boys than girls, but following puberty, it becomes more prevalent, and severe, in women than in men [2].
  • Asthma symptoms can also worsen at certain points during the menstrual cycle. Research has found that the hormonal changes experienced at ovulation, and around menstruation, can act as ‘triggers’ for attacks in some people [3].
  • Similarly, times of hormonal change such as pregnancy, and the menopause, can significantly affect asthma [4].
  • Women are more likely to develop asthma if they are obese, but not men [5]! A Canadian longitudinal study, involving over nine thousand people, looked at the relationship between BMI and asthma. The authors concluded that obesity was related to development of asthma in women, but not in men.

See our blog about the role of hormones in asthma for more information.


Note: If your hormonal medication is causing or worsening your asthma symptoms, the following tips are unlikely to eliminate the problem entirely, whilst you remain on the same medication. Please consult a doctor about your options.

TOP TIP! Record your symptoms in a diary, symptom tracker chart, or smartphone application- this can help to identify any hormonal or environmental triggers, such as; the menstrual cycle, medications, exercise, food, alcohol, caffeine, cigarette smoke, air pollution, pollen, air fresheners, or chlorine etc.

Managing hormone-related asthma or wheezing:

The steps outlined on our ‘all symptoms‘ page can help to alleviate asthma symptoms:

Try a hormone-balancing diet– As outlined in this blog, a vegetable-based ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet can significantly improve all hormone-related symptoms. We highlight a few of the key steps that are especially relevant for those suffering from asthma, below;

– Eat less dairy?- Whilst reducing dairy products can improve hormonal balance [6], and dairy products are known to trigger asthma (especially in children) [7]- asthmatics can be at higher risk of osteoporosis because of the use of steroid medication [8]. So you should only avoid dairy products if you know that they are a trigger for your symptoms, and ensure that you replace them with other sources of calcium and vitamin D, if so.

– Try nutritional supplements– Vitamin D (1000-2000 IU daily) [9], zinc (20-30 mg daily) [10], and magnesium (100-300 mg daily) [11] have been found to improve asthma symptoms. Magnesium (100-300 mg daily) is also great for reducing all menstrual cycle-related symptoms [12] as is Vitex Agnus Castus (200-500 mg of extract daily) [13].


Exercise- can improve the symptoms of asthma by [14];

– improving how well your lungs work so you have more stamina and get less breathless
– boosting your immune system so your asthma’s less likely to be triggered by coughs and colds
– supporting weight loss, which will cut your risk of symptoms and an asthma attack
– releasing ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your brain to lift your mood.

Studies show that if you’re stressed or depressed you’re at higher risk of asthma symptoms as a result; staying happy and healthy really is good for your asthma [15].


Reduce stress hormones–  because these prepare us to either run away from danger or fight it (the “fight or flight” response). We react with symptoms such as a faster heart rate, tense muscles, and breathing that is shallow and fast (hyperventilating). These changes can trigger asthma symptoms [16].

You may notice that you lose your temper more easily when you’re under stress, and anger is itself an emotional asthma trigger [15]. Stress can encourage people to drink or smoke more, both asthma triggers in their own right [15]. People with asthma who are stressed may also feel less able or willing to take their asthma medicines as prescribed, especially if long term stress means they’re also dealing with anxiety and depression [15].

So. finding ways to reduce stress in your life is good for you and your asthma. Here are a few ideas to get you started [15]:

  1. Recognise your stress triggers. If you’re not sure what’s causing your stress, keep a diary and make a note of stressful episodes for two to four weeks. Then review it to spot the triggers.
  2. Me time – take some time out for you and do something you like doing but don’t usually get time to do. Taking a step back from things can help you to relax and to feel more in control so you’re able to deal with it all better when you go back to it.
  3. Talk to friends or family – Don’t be afraid to talk to a good friend or someone in your family about how you’re feeling. Other people can often help us see things in a new way. Most people feel a bit better about things after talking them through with someone.
  4. Organise the things you have to do – writing down everything you have to do helps clear your head and gives you back some control over what you have to do. Do the most important things first.

If you have tried the suggested tips and tricks for at least 3 months, and your symptoms do not improve, please consult your doctor.

If you have any suggestions, or tips, for managing hormonal asthma or wheezing- please let us know– we can share them with others!


Further information:


Page last reviewed and updated: June 2018


References:

  1. Asthma UK. (2015) Understanding asthma. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/understanding-asthma/. [Accessed 30 March 2017].
  2. Kynyk JA, Mastronarde JG, McCallister JW. (2011) ‘Asthma, the sex difference’. Curr Opin Pulm Med. Jan;17(1):6-11. doi: 10.1097/MCP.0b013e3283410038. Review. PubMed PMID: 21045697.
  3. Chandler MH, Schuldheisz S, Phillips BA, Muse KN. (1997) ‘Premenstrual asthma: the effect of estrogen on symptoms, pulmonary function, and beta 2-receptors’ Pharmacotherapy. Mar-Apr;17(2):224-34. PubMed PMID: 9085312.
  4. Murphy VE, Clifton VL, Gibson PG. (2006) ‘Asthma exacerbations during pregnancy: incidence and association with adverse pregnancy outcomes’ Thorax. Feb;61(2):169-76. Review. PubMed PMID: 16443708; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2104591.
  5. Chen Y, Dales R, Tang M, Krewski D. (2002) ‘Obesity may increase the incidence of asthma in women but not in men: longitudinal observations from the Canadian National Population Health Surveys’ Am J Epidemiol. Feb 1;155(3):191-7. PubMed PMID: 11821241.
  6. Brinkman MT, Baglietto L, Krishnan K, English DR, Severi G, Morris HA, Hopper JL, Giles GG. (2010) ‘Consumption of animal products, their nutrient components and postmenopausal circulating steroid hormone concentrations’. Eur J Clin Nutr.
    Feb;64(2):176-83. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.129. PubMed PMID: 19904296.
  7. Noutsios GT, Floros J. (2014) ‘Childhood asthma: causes, risks, and protective factors; a role of innate immunity’. Swiss Med Wkly. Dec 24;144:w14036. doi: 10.4414/smw.2014.14036. eCollection 2014 Dec 24. Review. PubMed PMID: 25539126.
  8. Weinstein RS. (2011) ‘Clinical practice. Glucocorticoid-induced bone disease’. N Engl J Med Jul 7;365(1):62-70. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp1012926. Review. PubMed PMID: 21732837.
  9. Martineau AR, Cates CJ, Urashima M, Jensen M, Griffiths AP, Nurmatov U, Sheikh A, Griffiths CJ. (2016) ‘Vitamin D for the management of asthma‘. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue 8. Art. No.: CD011511. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD011511.pub2
  10. Morgan, C. I., Ledford, J. R., Zhou, P., & Page, K. (2011). Zinc supplementation alters airway inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness to a common allergen. Journal of Inflammation (London, England), 8, 36. http://doi.org/10.1186/1476-9255-8-36
  11. Hashimoto Y, Nishimura Y, Maeda H, Yokoyama M. (2000) Assessment of magnesium status in patients with bronchial asthma. J Asthma. Sep;37(6):489-96. PubMed PMID: 11011755.
  12. Briden, L. (2015) Period Repair Manual; Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods Amazon pp 112
  13. van Die MD, Burger HG, Teede HJ, Bone KM. (2012) ‘Vitex agnus-castus extracts for female reproductive disorders: a systematic review of clinical trials’. Planta Med May;79(7):562-75. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1327831. Epub 2012 Nov 7. Review. PubMed PMID: 23136064.
  14. Asthma UK. (2016) ‘Exercise and activities’. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/living-with-asthma/exercise-and-activities/. [Accessed 30 March 2017].
  15. Asthma UK. (2016) ‘Stress and anxiety’. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/stress/. [Accessed 30 March 2017].
  16. Rubio Ravelo L, Gago Rodríguez B, Almirall Collazo JJ, Bell Heredia L, Fernández Fernández L. (1988) ‘Comparative study of progesterone, estradiol and cortisol concentrations in asthmatic and non-asthmatic women’. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). Jul-Aug;16(4):263-6. PubMed PMID: 3228046.

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