Asthma

Homeopathy has an important part to play, writes Dr Mabel Aghadiuno

Asthma is a very common condition  affecting five per cent of the population at one stage of life. In the  Western world, up to ten per cent of children have the disease. It is  certainly not confined to our epoch – Seneca the younger, a powerful  Roman leader and historic figure of the theatre, described his asthma as  his “last gasp”. However, he was something of a celebrity during his  age and his demise was certainly not due to asthma!

In asthma the bronchial tubes narrow and this makes it more difficult  to breathe. Symptoms that occur in asthma are chest tightness,  coughing, wheezy breathing and shortness of breath. These symptoms may  simply occur when the body has to work harder – such as on walking  quickly, going upstairs or running. House dust may provoke an asthma  attack if there is a history of allergy as may exposure to cat, dog or  horse hair. People who suffer from hay fever may find that they get  asthma-like symptoms too. It is helpful to find out if the asthma is  caused by an allergy as this can offer some direction that treatment  with homeopathy may pursue. Asthma patients may have a personal or  family history of hay fever and/or eczema, as these conditions tend to  exist together.

Conventional treatment 

In terms of conventional treatment, the medication available can  offer reasonable control of symptoms. Bronchodilator inhalers (available  on prescription) such as Salbutamol (Ventolin) and Bricanyl  (Terbutaline) are designed to act on the muscles of the airways and help  the air flow through. You could think of the airways as tunnels, which  narrow down when there is asthma. The bronchodilators are the workmen  which widen the tunnel allowing greater flow of air (the traffic). There  are also steroid inhalers such as Becotide (Beclomethasone) and  Pulmicort (Budesonide) which you could imagine to be the workmen who do  the maintenance work in the tunnel preventing the build up of debris or  do things which keep the tunnel nice and wide – they act by reducing the  inflammation. If used well and if the asthma is not severe, inhalers  such as Becotide can do a good job. If someone has asthma and they are  already on conventional medicine I would strongly recommend that they do  not stop their medication or alter it without deciding this together  with a doctor. Stopping medication can result in a flaring up of the  asthma and this may be confused with a homeopathic aggravation, or  worse, it could be potentially very serious.

Nevertheless sometimes people do not like the thought of taking these  drugs and of the side effects that can occur. The side effects of  Salbutamol are generally mild and steroids used short term rarely cause  problems but the long term use of steroids even if inhaled may lead to  potential problems if large doses are used. Initially homeopathic  treatment may be used alongside conventional treatment but eventually we  wish for a reduction in inhaler use and hopefully we can wean the  patient off them provided that homeopathy gives a result as good or  better than that obtained with inhalers.

Homeopathic treatment 

So what homeopathic medicines are available to treat asthma? Asthma  like any other condition can be treated with homeopathy at various  levels. The ideal would be to find the treatment, which reflects the  Similimum of the case (or as near to the Similimum as possible). By  Similimum, I mean the remedy that best matches the person not just in  terms of his symptoms but also in terms of his psyche and the way that  he relates to other people and to life generally. This would offer a  deeper prospect of healing. However finding the Similimum may not always  be possible and there are many remedies which may be given for the  symptoms of asthma. There are also remedies that can be given for the  causes of allergic asthma (homeopathic preparations of house dust mite,  grasses and pollens etc). Asthma is a condition for which I would highly  recommend professional treatment – I would not advocate self-treatment.  Here are the outlines of a few remedies, which may be helpful in the  treatment of asthma.

Blatta orientalis 

This is the large dark Oriental cockroach. As a species, cockroaches  are night-active insects and most live in damp places. Interestingly,  asthma sufferers who benefit from this remedy may complain that their  condition is worse in mouldy, damp environments. There may also be an  allergy or sensitivity to moulds, mildew and rotting leaves. This group  of people comment that exertion and ascending tend to aggravate their  symptoms although this can be a general finding in asthma. The  combination of obesity and asthma indicates that Blatta orientalis is a  remedy worth considering.

Ipecacuanha

If asthma is associated with nausea and/or vomiting then Ipecacuanha  could be indicated. This remedy is obtained from the dried roots of a  creeping shrub, Cephaelis (or Psychotria) ipecacuanha, which is native  to Brazil but cultivated in other tropical climates. Emetine, the active  principle of Ipecac, is obtained from the bark or the root. It is a  powerful poison that produces vomiting and is sometimes prescribed to  relieve the stomach of some other poison. Traditionally Ipecac is used  as an expectorant in the treatment of bronchitis or croup, stimulating  bronchial secretions to make coughing easier. In terms of homeopathy  Ipecac patients present with a constant cough with gagging and vomiting.  The chest may rattle and the patient complains that the symptoms are  worse in warm humid weather and that heat generally makes her feel  worse. She therefore may prefer sitting up by an open window to get some  air. The hands and feet are cold and perspire profusely. Ipecac is  recognised as a remedy for childhood asthmatic crisis. Prompt medical  intervention is obviously indicated well before a child reaches this  stage of illness.

Lobelia inflata 

Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco) derives from a common American plant,  which has small blue flowers and inflated capsules. The “inflation” of  the capsules could serve as a symbol of the type of asthma that this  remedy helps. Asthma can be a frightening experience especially when you  feel that you are not getting enough air into your lungs. As with many  other conditions, this can lead to hysteria and panic. Panic can lead to  working unnecessarily hard to breathe and this can result in  “over-inflation” of the lungs. With this type of asthma, the shortness  of breath is far out of proportion to the wheeze and therefore the  amount of narrowing of the airways that there actually is. The patients  who need Lobelia can feel a sensation of constriction or a lump in the  chest. It can also be helpful when an asthma attack occurs during  labour. Drafts and cold or damp tend to make the asthma worse while slow  deep breathing make it better. Strangely, rapid walking also improves  things.

Antimonium tartaricum 

This, like Ipecac, was used traditionally in medicine as an emetic.  It was also used as an expectorant helping the production of catarrh  from the chest. It was used in the treatment of several diseases.
but because the side-effects were frequent and toxic this eventually  limited its use. Fortunately, the doses that are used in homeopathy are  infinitesimally small so it can be administered with some benefit. This  remedy can be useful in children and in the elderly, especially where  the asthma is associated with infection and a lot of mucus. The mucus  causes a coarse, wet sounding rattling noise both on breathing in and  out. The patient may say that he feels generally better when he is  fanned but he also might be rather irritable and wish to be left alone.  There are also some other symptoms such as breathlessness, which is  worse from heat and lying, but these are not really very specific.

Sambucus nigra 

This can be helpful particularly in childhood asthma. The elder is  one of the most mysterious plants in British folk tradition.  Traditionally feelings about the elder were ambivalent – some considered  it the friend of witches and were extremely superstitious about even  bringing the wood into the house. However, the elder was also used for  its protective and curative effects – protection against witches, for  warding off flies and curing warts. The remedy Sambucus nigra is  prepared from a tincture of the leaves and flowers. There was a legend  that if you fell asleep under elder flowers, the scent would poison you  and you would never wake up. Perhaps there is some truth in this if  homeopathy will cure what it will cause. The patient who might benefit  from Sambucus wakes up in the night with a frightening sensation of  suffocation and may even have cyanosis (blueness of the face). There can  be severe spasms of the respiratory airways so it is very frightening.  These patients are worse at midnight or from midnight to 3am. The  asthmatic attack may be associated with marked perspiration, especially  on waking.

Natrum sulphuricum 

This is a very useful remedy for asthma in both children and adults.  The asthma may stop at puberty and reappear later from the 30s onwards.  The asthma may even appear in association with a period of grief. It  tends to be worse at 4am or between 4 and 5am. Damp weather – be it cold  or warm – makes it worse, as does fog and storms. It may also be worse  before menstruation. At times, there can be rattling and greenish mucus.

Medorrhinum 

This can be very valuable in the treatment of childhood asthma,  particularly where asthma and eczema may also be combined. The shortness  of breath is reputed to be better when the child kneels on the bed  curled up with the chest touching the knees (knee-chest position). Wet  weather makes the asthma worse but being at the seaside improves it.

Tuberculinum 

This is a useful remedy for asthma sufferers as it helps build up  the immune system to try to prevent recurrent colds and chest infections  which may precipitate asthma attacks.

“One-liners”, which may direct towards a particular remedy, are:

  • Wheezing improved by belching: Carbo vegetabilis
  • Cough improved by taking cold drinks: Cuprum metallicum
  • Asthma symptoms improved at night by lying: Euphrasia
  • Cough worse from eating: Kali bichromium
  • Marked sneezing that makes asthma attack worse or provokes an attack; coughing causes tears: Sabadilla.

Finally asthma sufferers include many  famous people from the past and present day. Beethoven, Charles Dickens,  Che Guevara, John F Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Collins number  in their ranks. Besides having asthma in common, they all led or lead  active, full, varied and energetic lives – the ultimate aim for all  asthma patients.

Mabel Aghadiuno MBChB MSc MRCGP DGM MFHom has been practising  homeopathic medicine for some years, previously at the Glasgow  Homoeopathic Hospital and also in Edinburgh. She currently works in the  Bromley homeopathic clinic and also treats patients privately.