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Healing Your Lungs Naturally: 14 Tips for Asthma and Respiratory Irritation Due to Smoke Exposure

Updated: Jul 28, 2023



As the world warms and wildfires surge, many of us are exposed to smoke particles that can cause lung damage. Those with respiratory problems such as asthma are at even higher risk. The real concern is the fine particles--2.5 microns or less in diameter, which can't be seen by the naked eye. These are the biggest health hazard. They’re so small you can’t see them.


As a functional medicine nurse practitioner, my goal is to support my patients' health as naturally as possible, while also using a science-based approach and prescription medications if necessary. During smoke season, many patients request inhalers or other medications for their asthma, reactive airway disease, or other lung disorders. My goal is to provide them safe and natural ways to heal, while understanding that medications may sometimes be necessary.


Here are 14 tips to help you prevent or detox from smoke exposure and protect your lungs from long-term damage after wildfire smoke inhalation:


1. Water. Drink LOTS of Water (and NOT from plastic!)


Wildfire smoke inhalation causes microscopic particles to get trapped in your lungs. There is a working theory that water helps flush these particles from your system. It is advised to drink half your body weight in water, preferably distilled ( a 20o lb man would need 100 oz).


A healing ‘hot liquid’ drink can be made by steeping Slippery Elm and Marshmallow Root in hot water. These are mucilaginous herbs, which means they relieves irritation of the mucous membranes by forming a protective film. Marshmallow happens to be the most anti-inflammatory of the mucilaginous herbs.



Slippery Elm soothes irritated and inflamed respiratory tissues as well as your mouth, throat, and GI tract. I use it frequently to also help my patients with gastritis, ulcers and other gut problems. You can get these on our Fullscripts Apothecary and have them delivered to your door. These two herbs support, moisten, and relax the fragile tissues in your mouth, throat, and lungs.


Other respiratory-supportive options include licorice, plantain, and mullein. Mullein is both a demulcent and expectorant. It's particularly beneficial for the upper respiratory tract and has been used for asthma and dry or spastic coughs for hundreds of years.


An example of product that contains multiple respiratory-supporting agents is Lung and Bronchial Tone by Natura.


Bonus Tip: For 10-15% off nutrients and supplements mentioned in the blog, create simple account using our Fullscripts Apothecary:



2. Use a Saline Nasal Spray


It’s easy for smoke exposure to cause irritated sinuses, irritation to the eyes, and shortness of breath. A saline nasal spray can help you moisten and soothe the inside of your nose. This can promote the expulsion of foreign matter and provide immediate relief. This is safe for children as well, and is a great treatment for sinus congestion all year long.



3. Rinse Sinus with a Neti Pot


This helps you remove foreign substances—be sure to boil the water first and then allow to become warm (don’t use cold water). When you’re exposed to smoke, pollutants can easily get trapped in your nasal passage. If allowed to remain, they can easily travel to the lungs and cause additional issues.


Generally, a rinsing with a neti pot can reduce congestion and improve symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and dry nasal passages. This is one of my go-to home treatments when I have a sinus infection or cold.



4. Breathe Steam-- with Thyme

Thyme has a wide variety of benefits, including:

· Anti- Microbial

· Anti-Viral

· Anti-Fungal

Breathing a steam, rich with thyme, can help expel foreign substances, clear passageways, and reduce the irritation level of your sinuses. The simplest way to create thyme-filled steam is to add 1 – 2 TBS of thyme to a large bowl. Pour in boiling water. Lower your head so it’s inches from the hot water. Cover head and bowl with a large towel, trapping steam under the towel. Breathe deeply for 1 – 2 minutes. Repeat as needed.

Don’t have time for thyme or can’t source it? Plain steam is great too! Eucalyptus is also helpful!

This is also great all year long for colds and sinus problems and allergies.


5. Increase Antioxidants & Respiratory Protective Plants


Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, such as vitamins A, C and E, and the minerals copper, zinc and selenium, and C0-Q10. Free radicals are waste substances produced by cells as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result. This can harm cells and body function.


Factors that increase the production of free radicals in the body can be internal, such as inflammation, or external, for example, pollution, UV exposure, and cigarette smoke. The best sources of antioxidants are plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Some functional mushrooms are helpful for respiratory protection as well, such as in Host Defense "Breathe".


Nature's pharmacy gives us bountiful herbs to protect our airway and reduce inflammation. Loebelia, as found in Respiratory EZ by Restorative Formulations is an example. Lobelia maintains healthy bronchial functioning, and also supports healthy leukotriene metabolism. Leukotrienes play a key role in asthma in three ways: causing inflammation, bronchoconstriction and mucus production. Most folks with asthma experience flares when exposed to smoke.


Pro Tip: Buy pesticide/spray free (organic!) produce whenever possible to limit exposure to even more chemicals and toxins.

 

 













Foods with rich, vibrant colors often contain the most antioxidants.

Foods that are particularly high in antioxidants are often referred to as a “superfood” or “functional food.” Examples of antioxidants found in food include:


  • Vitamin A: Dairy produce, eggs, liver

  • Vitamin C: Most fruits, veggies: especially berries, oranges, bell peppers

  • Vitamin E: Nuts, seeds, green, leafy vegetables

  • Foods high in CoQ10: sardines, salmon, trout, mackerel, chicken, beef, pork, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, orange, soybeans, lentils, pistachio, sesame seeds

  • Beta-carotene: Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach, and mangoes

  • Lycopene: Pink and red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and watermelon

  • Lutein: Green, leafy vegetables, corn, papaya, and oranges

  • Selenium: Rice, corn, wheat, and other whole grains, as well as nuts, eggs, cheese, and legumes



Generally speaking, you’ll get far more nutrients from eating raw foods rather than cooked!

6. Load Your Diet with Ginger and other natural anti-inflammatories


Ginger is another fabulous, natural detoxifier. Not only does it contain chemical compounds that help the lungs function, ginger improves blood circulation. Caution if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking anti-coagulants.



Turmeric/curcumin is another wonderful anti-inflammatory that has been shown to be very helpful for IBS, joint pain, and anxiety as well!



For an extra anti-inflammatory boost, consider a supplement such as

Stop Inflame and/or Curcumin Complex.




7. Up Your Glutathione Levels


Glutathione is one of the body’s most important and potent antioxidants. It may support production of cellular energy and protect your DNA from oxidative damage (a common side effect of smoke exposure). Your body produces the glutathione it needs, but sometimes your levels may run low.


You can consume glutathione naturally from foods like kale or garlic or supplement with it.



8. Avoid “additional exposures”

During smoke exposure and for several weeks after, it is crucial to allow your respiratory system time to heal by avoiding inhalation paints, nail polish, tobacco and marijuana smoke, chemical cleaning agents, hairsprays, spray sunscreens, etc.

9. Increase your circulation and deep breathing for cleansing--If you have a very smoke free environment to exercise in, keep exercising, which will aid in pulmonary hygiene and respiratory health—otherwise, avoid exercising in any poor air quality or you can cause more harm than good to your lungs

10. Practice Pulmonary Hygiene—otherwise known in medicine as pulmonary toilet—these include exercises and procedures that help to clear your airways of mucus and other secretions. This ensures that your lungs get enough oxygen and your respiratory system works efficiently. Cardio exercise is the best was to practice natural pulmonary hygiene—others include the cough/deep breath method, and the pulmonary breathing method (inhale deeply into the stomach, hold for 5, exhale through the nose for 5)

11. If you haven’t already, smoke-proof your home using fans with a filter taped to the back of them, closing off vents to the fireplace (turn off the pilot light first!), placing plastic over the fireplace vents and towels under door cracks, taping any doors or windows around the edges where smoke may be getting in (if you do seal your home, it is advisable to have a working carbon monoxide detector as well)

12.Wear an N95 if you have one outside and/or while driving in your car. Turn your car on re-circ air while air quality is in the unhealthy or higher range (you can easily google the air quality rating for your area).


13. Diffuse, Boil, Humidify

If you own a diffuser, now is the time to dust it off! Diffusing or boiling water with lavendar, rosemary, cedar, thyme, or euctalyptus can help with odor and potentially decrease particulate matter by causing smoke particles to attach to the oils and water.

Likewise, adding humidity to the air is for important to keep fragile respiratory tissues healthy and less vulnerable to infection.


14. Mind the AQI! It should seem obvious, but DON'T be outside more than absolutely necessary on poor air quality days--this is NOT a good time to go for a run or play with your kids in the park. From a functional health standpoint, we discourage exercise outdoors for the general population when the AQI is above 100.


Understanding the AQI


  • "Good" AQI is 0 to 50. Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.

  • "Moderate" AQI is 51 to 100.

  • "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" AQI is 101 to 150. ...

  • "Unhealthy" AQI is 151 to 200. ...

  • "Very Unhealthy" AQI is 201 to 300. ...

  • "Hazardous" AQI greater than 300.



Pro Tip: For a 10-15% discount off thousands of supplements, including those mentioned in this blog, click the fullscript link below and create an account via our Hearthside Medicine Apothecary!



Bonus Pearl:


Add plants to your home and workspace! Plants are nature's great natural air purifier! They also aid in reducing anxiety! (You'll notice if you visit Hearthside Medicine clinic that we have plants everywhere!)




About the author:

Havilah Brodhead, Functional Medicine Family Nurse Practitioner



Havilah is the owner of Hearthside Medicine Family Care, an integrative medicine primary care practice for the whole family in Bend, OR. She is accepting new patients, accepts most insurances, and is a big believer in food as medicine and prevention and has taken many continuing medicine education hours in functional medicine to add to her years of experience as a primary care nurse practitioner. She is accepting new patients in her Bend Oregon Clinic and is also happy to offer telehealth visits and health coaching visits to those outside of Oregon. Most insurances accepted.



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Gomez Lila
Gomez Lila
Sep 25, 2021

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dorislukaz21
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