It was 5am on Sunday the 18th of March when my son came into our room and woke us up. He couldn't breathe. Adrenalin coursed through our veins and instantly invoked action. I don't know if there is anything more terrifying then your own flesh and blood not being able to breathe. To hear them struggling while you stand by watching in fear and hoping that the Ventolin you're pumping into him is going to start working. We called the ambulance. I nearly vomited. I internally panicked and externally tried to calm my son. Initially Dylan panicked but soon realised that if he didn't remain calm it made the situation worse. He did and I was so proud. The ambulance took nearly 30 minutes to arrive, the longest 30 minutes of my life. It was like slow motion.
Unfortunately this wasn't the first time experiencing something like this with Dylan. It all started when he was only 10 months old. A severe bout of bronchiolitis saw him on a feeding tube and oxygen for 3 days. Ever since then we were in hospital with him what felt like every few weeks, but it was more like once a month. Whether it was because of his genetic predisposition to asthma or that the bronchiolitis caused damage to his lungs, or both. We revisited the emergency room more times then I can remember. All I can say is that I am incredibly thankful for modern medicines like Ventolin, adrenaline and steroids. Because without them we wouldn't have our son and that's the truth.
I wish we were the only parents to have to go through this. It's so awful but so common. And how frustrating, me as a nutritionist and raising my children to be as healthy as I can but them still getting so ill. One with asthma and one with severe allergies. It's certainly taught me that I really can't control everything and you certainly can't change the genes that you're born with. But what I could do was to support Dylan's immune system and gut health and help to reduce the inflammatory response.
Supporting Your Child With Asthma
I tried so many different natural treatments (on top of the necessary conventional medicines we used) but some were much more effective than others. Below is a list of the supplements and dietary measures I took to help to support Dylans health.
Note: This applies to children who experience frequent bouts of bronchiolitis as well. In fact, the advice below would benefit most children.
Specifically the LGG strain. In children and adults with asthma, their immune system is overreacting to a trigger. LGG helps to balance out the immune system, helping to reduce this overreaction. Probiotics also help to promote a healthy gut, which is essential to immune health as well as overall health. LGG comes in a powdered form that you can sprinkle on top of foods, add to water or milk or even give straight off the spoon (my kids love it this way).
Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil contains EPA/DHA (from omega 3) as well as vitamin A and vitamin D. These vitamins and essential fatty acids are essential for a healthy immune system and reducing inflammation. Vitamin A and EPA/DHA promote healthy mucous membranes, which is important for those with asthma as the mucous membranes of the lungs become inflamed during an attack. Cod liver oil comes in a liquid form that can be added to yoghurt, water, fresh juices or given straight with a dropper or syringe.
It's no secret that the food we eat is incredibly important to our health. But sometimes a food that is generally a very healthy food for the majority of people, in some may cause an inflammatory or immune response. When you have a child with asthma, eczema, allergies or any childhood condition for that matter, the first thing I would want to know is do they have any food intolerances? As I mentioned above, poor gut health impacts the immune system and what do foods do to the gut if we are intolerant to them? They disturb the gut, they promote disbiosis (too much bad bacteria, not enough good), they negatively impact the immune system and they make us feel lousy. There are several tests out there for food intolerances, you just need to see the right professional. I recommend a nutritionist or naturopath.
Cut Out Processed Foods
White bread, packaged biscuits, white rice, store bought muesli bars and packet snacks. All of these foods are highly processed and highly inflammatory. These foods feed bad bacteria, which negatively affects the immune system. Not to mention they contain little to no beneficial nutrients. Cutting out processed foods means cutting right down on refined sugars, which are detrimental to our health. Replacing these foods with homemade, wholefood treats and snacks like my protein balls, Rose, Coconut and Carob Slab, Spelt Banana Bread, or these Spelt Choc Chip Biscuits are much healthier options. I am a massive advocate of home baking because you can control exactly what is going into your food.
Increase Fruit and Vegetables
I know with some children this can be hard but it is so important to make sure that your little ones are eating enough fruit and veg is important. These amounts will look different depending on the age of the child (you can find more detailed information on serving sizes here - just a heads up, I don't agree with their information on how many serves of grains and dairy are needed per day but this page does provide a good representation of how much in the way of fruit and veg to be feeding children at different ages).
Invest in Self Care
Having a child with Asthma or bronchiolitis can be incredibly stressful. It can mean frequent hospital trips, much time taken off work (often using up all of your own sick days for your children and then having none left for when you fall sick) and unavoidable sleep deprivation. It is important in times like these to prioritise the health of not only your child but yourself as well. If I could go back in time, I would have looked after myself a lot better.
Some useful supplements to take during times of stress include magnesium, B vitamins, zinc and probiotics. These supplements help to promote a healthy nervous system, helping you to deal with the added stress more effectively. Zinc and probiotics are specifically important for improving immunity, because there is nothing harder then looking after your sick child when you are not well yourself. Regular meditation, yoga and exercise also have huge benefits for the nervous system and immune health.
Where We Are Now
We are so lucky that what we experience with Dylan's asthma now is a far cry from what it was when he was younger. Before Sunday 18th March, Dylan hadn't needed an ambulance since he was three years old and had very few hospital visits in that time as well. It seems as he got bigger, his respiratory system became stronger and his immune system is now much more effective at fighting off illness. To say I was shocked by Sunday mornings' attack is an understatement. What our experience with Dylan's asthma has taught us is that we are incredibly lucky to live in a country where good quality health care is so easily accessible.
I've learnt that it is so important to not become complacent with treatment when they haven't been ill in a long time. Probiotics and cod liver oil will always be beneficial to a child with asthma. It was also a very clear reminder to always have a full Ventolin puffer on hand. Luckily we did but we very nearly didn't (it was just lucky that I had happened to pick one up from the chemist a few weeks before when I was there for something else). I hope this article has helped you to understand some different ways of supporting your child with asthma. And if you don't have a child with asthma, hopefully it given you a better understanding of the effects of asthma.