Health Center - Allergies and Asthma

If you or someone you love suffers from allergies or asthma, you know firsthand how difficult it can be to manage symptoms such as difficulty breathing, itchy eyes or a runny nose. Educate yourself and get tips to improve your quality of life in our Allergies and Asthma Health Center. Allergies Guide Asthma Guide

Allergy and Asthma Relief

by Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH

woman sneezingThere are lifestyle strategies you can use beyond medication, cleaning and dust control that might help get your asthma and allergy symptoms under control. Let's talk about strategies focused on diet and stress management.

My first recommendation? Lose weight. A recent study found women with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more had three times the risk of asthma compared to women with BMIs less than 20. The connection may be due to more fat cells, which release inflammatory chemicals that can contribute to asthma (and allergies). Plus, if you're overweight, your asthma symptoms are likely to be worse.

Next, pay attention to your diet. We're learning an amazing amount about the beneficial effects of certain foods on allergies and asthma. Here are my top three dietary strategies:

  1. Eat fish at least twice a week, or take fish oil supplements. Studies find people who eat a lot of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids are both less likely to develop asthma and, if they have the condition, have less severe symptoms.
  2. Up your intake of antioxidants. There's some evidence that free radical damage, or oxidation, may contribute to the inflammatory process that marks allergies and asthma. Antioxidants, of course, neutralize free radicals. For instance, studies find low levels of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant and a natural antihistamine, in people with asthma, so increase your consumption of high vitamin C foods like citrus fruits and red and yellow peppers, and take a vitamin C supplement, either alone or as part of a multivitamin. Basically, if you aim for seven or eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and make your grains whole grains, you should get plenty of antioxidants.
  3. Munch an apple a day. Packed with a powerful antioxidant called quercetin that helps control inflammation, apples, along with other quercetin-containing foods like onions and green and black teas, have been linked to a lower risk of asthma.

Now focus on controlling the stress in your life and your reaction to it. Although asthma was once thought to be a psychosomatic illness (i.e., imagined, or "all in your head,"), today we know that's not true. However, we also know that stress can trigger an asthma attack just as much as a smoke-filled room.