Diagnosis and management of childhood asthma cannot usually be made before about the age of 18 - 24 months, although, if there is a history of asthma in the family, for many doctors, the die is already cast. The reason asthma is rarely diagnosed before about 2 years old is because its symptoms can be ambiguous in young infants. It is also difficult and dangerous to treat the condition in a child so young with the conventional drugs and by the conventional methods.
However, I have included this topic in this chapter because, according to many non-orthodox health practitioners, there is in fact much that can be done in the early years of a child's life (and even during pregnancy) in prevention of its likelihood. In those children with a respiratory predisposition to asthma, I and many others believe that in the period of pregnancy and the first few years lays the groundwork, be it positive or negative, for a later diagnosis of asthma. And the best things which can be done? These are the natural things, the lifestyle management things - of which yoga has much to offer. But first, let us look at the current, conventional view of the situation.
The Conventional View of Asthma
Asthma is now an illness diagnosed in over 28% of children in Australia, and the number is estimated to be growing at a rate of 1.4% per year. Interestingly, asthma is predominantly a developed Western world disease - those living in impoverished countries having a much lower incidence of asthma. Some groundbreaking studies have intimated that the rapid rise of asthma in the developed world in the last few decades may be connected with the move away from extended breastfeeding, the worsening of the popular diet, a decrease in neonatal nurturing due to an absent (working) mother, poor diet during pregnancy, high stress during pregnancy, and smoking during (or even before) preg-nancy(41).
Also interesting is that there are an increasing number of health professionals who believe that many of the children diagnosed as asthmatic are in fact not so. They may indeed have inherent respiratory weaknesses and / or allergic tendencies, but to confidently sentence so many of them to a lifetime of illness which is said to be "incurable but medicinally manageable" is, at best, incompetent or, at worst, criminal.
Mainstream medicine has two main theories concerning the causes of asthma - the first is that it is hereditary (runs in the family) and congenital (present at birth), and the second is that its episodes are triggered solely by physical conditions - by either ingested or environmental allergens. The most commonly suspected triggers are: weather changes, particularly cold damp climates; certain kinds of infections; certain dairy foods; metabisulphite (a widely used preserva-tive); certain animal hair; dust mites; certain pollens; air pollution; cigarette smoke; certain kinds of mould; certain pesticides and other inorganic chemicals; chocolate; certain strong odours; refined foods and their preservatives and additives; wheat products; wood smoke; strong exercise.
In asthmatics, if any number of these sub-stances enter the body via the skin, lungs or the stomach, the lungs may then have an allergic reaction, causing the initial symptoms of: wheezing (a high pitched raspy sound on breathing), coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in chest. If left untreated, this reaction can then escalate into a life-threatening asthma attack.
The physiological factors contributing to an asthma attack are well understood and accepted. For whatever reasons (i) the airways become inflamed (ii) there is a contraction / constriction of the airways, (iii) there is a build up of mucus on the linings of the airways. As a result of these factors breathing becomes laboured. If the sufferer panics, their tension causes the airways to constrict even further, and the attack quickly worsens.
The initial medical approach to asthma management used to be solely through use of "relievers" inhaled via a "puffer" in the event of an attack. These are a combination of bronchodi-lators (like Ventolin) and anti-inflammatories (the corticosteroids). A second approach was later developed using "preventers" - regular inhalations from a puffer, pills or injections which the sufferer uses on a day to day basis to condition the lungs against the tendency to constrict in the event of any allergic triggers being present. The latest approach is an inhaler containing a mixture of both types of medica-tions.
Sadly, for many asthma sufferers, the potential of an attack becomes a constant underlying fear in their life, creating a chronic nervousness and insecurity. Over the years, many sufferers develop a range of postural conditions and behaviours both as a result of, and also to help protect against, attacks such