Your throat closes up, your chest tightens, and you feel like you’re breathing through a straw. Next may come coughing spells, wheezing, difficulty breathing, thick mucus, anxiety, and panic. That’s an asthma attack, and even if you’ve never had the chronic inflammatory condition that causes it, one can hit at any age.

Why asthma happens When you have asthma, your airways and lungs overreact to dust, pollen, mold, and other pollutants. When irritated, your breathing passages swell and the adjacent muscles constrict, causing you to cough, wheeze, or feel like you can’t draw a breath. Your chances of developing asthma are higher if a close relative has it or you have a history of sensitivity to environmental irritants. “People who had allergies as kids often develop asthma,” says Karin Sloan, MD, a pulmonologist at Boston University School of Medicine.

How to solve adult asthma: The newest developments

  • Leukotriene-receptor antagonists (LTRAs) Good news for people who don’t like inhalers: These nonsteroidal prescription pills can control mild asthma as well as steroid inhalers, a 2011 University of East Anglia study found. LTRAs block the action of immune-system compounds called leukotrienes that create inflammation in air passages.
  • Biofeedback and prayer “Stress is a common trigger,” says Randy Horwitz, MD, PhD, medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Being upset may raise your heart rate and spark the release of inflammation-causing chemicals, but biofeedback and prayer can reduce your pulse, helping keep your airways calm. (Still stressed? Here’s Your Real-Life Stress Survival Guide.)
  • Herbs There’s new evidence that an ancient Chinese herbal remedy may relieve asthma. When 226 people with asthma took kampo, an herbal treatment that includes gardenia fruit, licorice root, and cinnamon bark, in a Japanese preliminary trial, more than 90% reported improved symptoms after 16 days. (For more natural remedies, see the Top 10 Healing Herbs.)
  • Vitamins Asthmatics in a small study who took 1 g of vitamin C daily for 16 weeks could lower their corticosteroid dosage without worsening symptoms. And a large US clinical trial is investigating whether a combination of vitamin D and corticosteroids can stop attacks.
  • Fish oil An early stage study of 16 patients with exercise-induced asthma found that those who took fish oil capsules (3.2 g of EPA and 2 g of DHA) daily had improved lung function and used inhalers 30% less often. Don’t forget to check out the 22 Best Vitamins For Women for more ways to boost your health.

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