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Asthma and its Aromatherapy Management

by Dr Vivian Lunny(more info)

listed in asthma, originally published in issue 25 - February 1998

Important facts about Asthma

  • Asthma is a medical, physiological condition.
  • There is no causal relationship between parenting skills and asthma. Asthma is caused by genetic predisposition and physical factors, not poor parenting.
  • Children with asthma often (about 50%) experience a reduction or disappearance of symptoms as they grow into adulthood, but there are no guarantees about any child growing out of asthma or that their symptoms will not return at a later date.
  • Often people experience a reduction in symptoms when moving to a different climate, at least temporarily. However, as people become accustomed to the new environment, new allergens (pollens, etc.) can pop up – trading one allergen for another.
  • Asthma can kill. The best prevention is well-managed asthma and early detection and intervention in attacks. Under treatment leads to more deaths than over treatment of asthma.
  • Exercise is as important for those with asthma as those without. Properly controlled asthma can allow children to participate in most or all activities.
  • Coughing is often as much an indication of asthma as wheezing. Some asthmatics cough and wheeze, others only cough.
  • Asthma is triggered by emotional upsets.

"Not all people with asthma have allergies. Roughly 5% of the population lives with asthma".

Asthma is a disease that is characterised by increased responsiveness of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (main airways) to some type of trigger that causes widespread narrowing of the airways that changes in severity either as a result of treatment, or spontaneously.

Asthma as a whole may be divided into:

Acute asthma which we generally refer to as an asthma attack. The bronchial tubes suddenly narrow, and the person is acutely short of breath, and (sometimes) wheezes. An acute attack may require medical stabilisation in a hospital setting; unless special equipment, medication, and help is available at home.

Chronic asthma produces symptoms on a frequent basis, in some cases almost constantly. It is characterised by frequent symptoms, ranging from very mild symptoms to full-blown acute attacks. Chronic asthma generally may require daily medication.

According to a study by Dr David P. Joyce of the University of Toronto and co-investigators, the main predisposing risk factors for atopic disease and asthma in the newborn are centred in the home. They include the presence of animals in the household, dusty environments, carpeting, cigarette smoking, and others.

A main asthma trigger in children is illness. Typically children have their first attack 1–2 days after the onset of a respiratory illness.


– wheezing (lack of wheezing may sometimes mean WORSE asthma)
– increased breathing rate (normal is under 25 breaths per minute; over 40 is cause for calling a doctor). Parents should test their child's normal rate when they are well, so they can tell when the breathing rate is increased.
– coughing, especially early morning
– longer expiration than inspiration
– retraction of the ribs.

Asthma attacks may build over days (as with illness-induced) or hit within seconds. Generally, the more triggers present, the worse the attack.

In young children, asthma is often misdiagnosed. Many young children with recurrent bronchial illness really have asthma. Of particular note is "cough variant" asthma, in which the main symptom is coughing, especially early morning.

Anaphylactic reactions

Anaphylactic reactions are general, dramatic reactions that can result in collapse and possibly death. It is caused by a sudden release of histamines and other chemicals that overwhelm the body. The onset is usually rapid and symptoms occur within minutes. Death can potentially occur immediately or within two hours.

The first sign may be swelling and redness of the skin or may be a non-visible internal reaction such as swelling of the airway, a drop in blood pressure, shock, or nausea. The allergic person may also have a feeling of great anxiety. Minutes are vital.

Thunderstorms can trigger asthmatic attacks

A recent study has found that thunderstorms that occur during grass pollen season can cause a dramatic increase in acute asthma attacks. Researchers found that the number of emergency room admissions for asthma increased by 25% when thunderstorms occurred and rose by up to 50% when storms occurred on days with high pollen counts. The source of the increase in asthmatic attacks is speculative. The recent study suggested that high humidity levels preceding a storm might lead to a rupture of pollen grains thereby releasing small starch granules containing allergens into the air.

Asthma and oestrogen

Further information on the relationship between asthma and oestrogen has emerged recently. Researchers have documented that premenopausal women are most likely to suffer an asthma attack in the premenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle when oestrogen levels are lowest. Additional research may lead to the use of oestrogen supplements during this time period for patients experiencing severe asthmatic attacks. At this time patients who experience worsening of asthmatic symptoms in the premenstrual phase should be careful to maintain their treatment regimens and avoid asthma triggers. After menopause, the relationship between asthma and oestrogen is less clear. One study has suggested that Hormone Replacement Therapy may actually increase the risk of developing asthma by 50%. Further studies are needed to clarify this conflicting information.

General treatment measures

Avoidance and environmental changes

For most allergies and asthma, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen. This is easier for foods such as shellfish, melons, citrus, and bell peppers which are usually easy to spot and avoid. Foods like eggs, wheat, corn, peanuts and milk are harder to spot as they may be hidden ingredients in a number of foods. Although some change in diet is inevitable, it is not a death sentence; most people do not have to cut out social events or change their lives radically.

For inhalant allergies, avoidance requires more work. For seasonal allergens (pollens), try to stay indoors as much as possible and avoid going out during peak pollen times (usually early mornings). Filter masks are available to prevent breathing in allergens if you must be out. For year-round and household allergens (mould, dust, dander), the best approach is minimizing places for the stuff to gather. Patients are usually advised to remove curtains, carpets, and unnecessary clutter. If anything is left, make sure it is easily washable and wash it frequently. Vacuum often – once a day is recommended by some. Make sure allergy-prone people (especially asthma sufferers) are out of the house before any painting, waxing, or other heavy-duty fume-producing activity occurs. Air filtering systems are available for individual rooms and as whole-house systems. Furry pets are a big source of dander, so it is best not to have pets or, next best, keep them outside. Absolutely keep pets out of bedrooms at all times. Tobacco smoke is irritating to many allergic people, so this should also be eliminated or kept outside.

Cleaning the home environment

Invest in an electrostatic filter. If you have a heating system that accepts changeable filters they MUST be washed out once a month to clean the pollen and keep your pump working at top efficiency.

It may pay to have your air circulation ducts professionally cleaned, to get out old dirt, pollen, pet dander. This may be especially useful if you are moving into a used house.

During the allergy season, buy one empty bottle of nasal spray and then make the refill solution with Anthemis nobile, or Roman chamomile hydrolat. By spraying the nasal passages, you rinse out the irritating pollens. This can cut out the need for medication and overall discomfort. But you must remember to do it after every time you go outside.

If you have hot air vents, put a cheesecloth or air conditioner filter in each one. This keeps dirt from the vents and air system from entering the house.


In addition to the general measures described above, oils chosen must be able to produce relaxation, bronchodilatation, and emotional balance. If the patient is suffering from a respiratory tract infection, be it of viral, bacterial or fungal origin, the oils chosen for the individual formulation must also have an antiviral, antibacterial or antifungal effect, in order to be beneficial to the client.

A bronchodilator is a substance which acts on nerve endings (beta-2 receptors) which are located in the muscle layer surrounding the bronchial tubes in the lung. These agents cause the muscle to relax producing broncholdilatation.

The following are two examples of formulations which may be utilised for asthma sufferers, one in adulthood and the other in young infants, both very effective in this condition.

For an adult with a chronic asthmatic condition a blend of 5 drops of essential oil of Ravensara aromatica (Ravensara), 5 drops of essential oil of Thymus vulgaris chemotype linalol (Thyme linalol), 5 drops of essential oil of Myrtus vulgaris (Honey Myrtle), 5 drops of essential oil of Anthemis nobile (Roman Chamomile) in 30 ml of a carrier made up with 10 ml of infused oil of Echinacea purpurea and 15 ml of cold pressed peach kernel oil. Apply this formulation in massage to the neck and thorax twice daily, morning and night, this will boost the immune system, clear the infection if present and help with expectoration and bronchodilatation.

The oils used for infants are Ravensara aromatica (Ravensara) and Anthemis nobile (Roman Chamomile), however no dosages are given here, as the treatment of infants should always be done by a qualified aromatherapist in cooperation with the consultant paediatrician. These oils will help in both asthma and in bronchiolitis of the infant.

It is also a very good prophylactic measure to diffuse essential oils in the house during the winter months to humidify the environment and provide relief from impending winter colds which may worsen an asthmatic condition. The blend should be formulated by a therapist jointly with the client.


Real Essences Aromatherapy & Leisure ltd. Postgraduate training workshop notes. 1994
Lunny Associates Anatomy, Physiology and Physiopathology certificated course notes.Franchomme P, D. Penouel L'aromatherapie exactement P. 1990
Die „therische" le Gildemeister und Hofmann 1962
Essential Oils Gunther 1974
Cecil B. de Mille "Clinical Medicine" 1994
Lunny V. MD "Aromatherapy", Salamander Press 1997
Ann. Allergy Asthma Immunol 1997; 79:35-42.
J.H.L. Playfair "Immunology at a glance" Blackwell Scientific Publications 1992
For more information on Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) contact:
The Human Ecology Action League (HEAL), PO Box 29629 Atlanta, GA 30359-1126.


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About Dr Vivian Lunny

Vivian Nadya Lunny qualified as an MD in 1973. She specialised in Cardiology and Pathology and obtained Postgraduate Diplomas in Holistic and Scientific Aromatherapy Colour Therapy. She was awarded a Doctorate in Alternative Medicine in 1991. She is the proprietor of Real Essences Aromatherapy & Leisure Ltd. and a well known international Aromatherapy and Holistic Medicine Educator and Facilitator.
She can be contacted at: R.E.A.L. Ltd. P.O. Box 58, Stevenage, Herts. SG2 8XR, England, Tel/Fax: 44 (0) 1438 357 357. E mail: or You may visit her Internet site at:

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