When you have a child who is having trouble breathing, it’s a scary and heart-wrenching situation. Recently a dear friend of mine, who was one of my early patients decades ago, found herself in this shocking scenario. Her son couldn’t breathe. Prior to his newly-diagnosed asthma, he had been a top athlete. Now, all the inhalers in the world weren’t fixing him. They were actually making him suffer with debilitating nausea and anxiety on top of the severe breathing problems. But without the inhalers he was bed bound. He was not well, and now nauseated and anxious and losing weight because he had no appetite. It was a scary mess.
The boy’s urine test showed very high mycotoxins, which are by-products of mold exposure. A company came out to check their home and found vast amounts of pathogenic mold in their crawl space. All the inhalers in the world could not overcome daily exposure to mold. But now they knew the root cause and could set about fixing it.
When breathing is at stake, I have learned that there are several questions and clinical traffic pathways you must explore to try to fix the problem once and for all, and not merely try to subsist on inhalers. All these steroids eventually erode bone and harm even the basic cells of the heart (cardiomyocytes), and, worst of all, they are not getting at the root cause of why someone is gasping for air and how to truly fix it.
Here are 8 possible causes you must consider when seeking the root of asthma:
- Rule out allergies by doing food, histamine, and environmental allergen tests.
- Rule out airway reflux disease that can happen even in youth. Pepsin and/or bile can get aerosolized and enter the airways and cause chronic asthma, recurrent bronchitis and pneumonia and even COPD. Every clinician should ask, when a patient says they have asthma, particularly adult-onset asthma, “When you have breathing difficulties, do you have more trouble getting air in or out?” If the patient says, “IN,” they do not have asthma. Their symptoms are due to reactive airway disease secondary to airway reflux. This is a different type of GERD and that’s where the root cause of this issue is coming from. Not from the lungs and not from an inhaler deficiency.
- Rule out mold. Get a urine myctoxin test by Real Time Labs. It costs a lot but, if that’s your issue, it’s worth it. 25% of us can’t rinse mold out of our system and it can proliferate and cause lung issues. The exposure can be from long ago in folks with this genetic (allele) glitch. If there are high mold toxins in the urine you need to find if the exposure is current, and then get out of it and get adequately treated by an expert who knows what they are doing. (Listen to my podcast with mold MD expert, Dr. Neil Nathan at Dr. Berkson’s Best Health Radio)
- Insufficiencies of magnesium and/or B6 (both of which stabilize mast cells) along with healthy oils, like evening primrose or fish oils. Many severe asthma attacks can be helped if not stopped within minutes by specialized IV’s that include magnesium.
- Get rid of home pollution with high–end home air filters. If you live within a half mile of a busy free-way you may consider moving. If you live in an apartment and there are smokers even several apartments away, you might consider moving. Cigarette smoke “moves” through walls and ceilings. California is the first state that is beginning to have whole apartment buildings that are smoke free to avoid respiratory issues from asthma to cancer. This occurred due to legislation based on these issues and real life cases.
- Rule out if steroids are making you worse. The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences has found that some cases of asthma do worse with steroid therapies. Why? They found that half (that’s huge) of severely asthmatic patients produce large amounts of interferon-gamma signals. These folks don’t respond well to steroids. They have high levels of these signals, which are inflammatory proteins called CXCL10, in their blood. Steroids make these nasty molecules live longer. CXCL10 can be measured in the blood. Steroids make this inflammatory proteins harder to get rid of. These patients must look to other answers, such as insufficiencies in magnesium, vitamin B6, or allergies or mold, as mentioned above.
- Look to the gut, heal the gut, address improving the microbiome and gut wall permeability. Eat healthier, avoid processed foods, and add in pro- and pre-biotics as well as fermented foods like miso soup or “Live Beverages” made from fermented mushrooms but sold as delicious drinks from a company in my home town, Austin, TX.
- Rule out stomach acid insufficiency, especially in children. This is based on clinical observations and from gastric acid testing on hundreds of patients by Drs. Jonathan Wright MD and Joe Pizzorno ND.
Being ill is a flashing red light on your body’s physiologic dashboard that a number of things are going “wrong” and creating a perfect storm. You must tease apart the issues, find what’s wrong, and work with a smart team to help you make it right. Good luck to you!
Dr. Lindsey Berkson
Related Blog Posts & Podcast Episodes
Severe asthma in humans and mouse model suggests a CXCL10 signature underlies corticosteroid-resistant Th1 bias. JCI Insight, 2017; 2 (13)
Perspective on Laryngopharyngeal Reflux: From Silence to Omnipresence. Classics in Voice and Laryngology. Branski R, Sulica L, Eds. Pages 179-266, Plural Publishing, San Diego, 2009.
Interventions to Teach Inhaler Techniques, Risk Stratification of Asthma Exacerbations with Sputum Eosinophils, and High-Dose Infusion of Magnesium Sulfate for Severe Asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2017 Jun 1;195(11):1528-1530.
Exposure to Traffic-Related Air Pollution and Serum Inflammatory Cytokines in Children. Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Jun 16;125(6):067007.
The nutrition-gut microbiome-physiology axis and allergic diseases. Immunol Rev. 2017 Jul;278(1):277-295.
Gastric asthma: a clinical update for the general practitioner. MedGenMed. 2003 Jul 8;5(3):4.