Thursday, August 30, 2007

Coffee and Asthma

When I was in fifth grade, I was diagnosed with asthma. I suppose it was the right diagnosis, although I have never in my life had an asthma attack. However, I do occasionally get a little bit wheezy, and I have pretty poor lung capacity.

From time to time - maybe once every two years or so - I would have enough difficulty breathing to justify using my emergency inhaler. I never liked using it. I would get all jittery, and usually get a headache and generally feel awful. But I could breathe, which I supposed was a good trade off. As a consequence of so rarely needing my inhaler and hating how it made me feel, I never did get a refill the last time it expired. That was about four years ago.

However, since I was still occasionally unable to breathe, I needed to find some way to treat my asthma without paying huge amounts of money for the doctor's visit and the prescription for a medicine I only use biennially.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that before the invention of modern asthma medicine, asthma was treated with coffee. When I thought about it, this was not as strange as it had first seemed. I gave up coffee a long time ago because it gave me headaches and made me jittery - the same symptoms that went along with using my asthma medicine. In fact, aside from chocolate, I had completely given up all forms of caffeine for that very reason.

To quote from the article:

"Regular coffee drinkers have about 1/3 less asthma symptoms than those of non-coffee drinkers according to a Harvard researcher who studied 20,000 people."


"In particular, drinking caffeinated coffee in the situation of an emergency onset of asthma can allow the patient to breathe easily. Doctors have recommended coffee as an emergency way of treating asthma patients who find themselves with a sudden onset and no medication for many, many years."


"Several large coffee and asthma studies conducted in the past few years have examined the relationship between drinking coffee and the prevalence of asthma. A study of over seventy thousand Italians showed that there was a significant reduction in the appearance of asthma amongst patients who would regularly drink coffee. The risk of asthma symptoms fell by 28% when patients drank three or more cups of coffee every day"

Now, I gave up coffee and caffeine for a reason; I don't like how it makes me feel. I'm not going to become a coffee drinker just to ward off my rare episodes of breathing difficulties. However, a mocha cappuccino with extra caffeine boost is much more enjoyable to me than two puffs of a foul tasting medicine. Even if it does give me a dull headache and leave my limbs feeling jittery.

The last time I went out for coffee, I paid over $4 for a 12 oz drink. It helped me breathe, so I didn't complain, but it still smarted. Today I went to the QuickTrip gas station just down the street and paid $0.99 for a 16 oz cappuccino that was perfectly delicious and had an extra shot of caffeine in it. I, being no coffee connaisseur, can taste no difference and I save more than 75%. Joy upon joys. :)

One word of caution: coffee is not a substitute for medicine in serious cases of asthma. My asthma is so mild that I really don't have to worry about emergencies. Take today for instance. I experienced difficulty in breathing for 6 hours and tried other options before I finally decided I would have to go and get some coffee. In a true emergency situation, coffee can do little more than keep you breathing long enough to get you medical help.

For those who are interested, here are some other home remedies I have found work for the occasional mild to moderate breathing difficulties:
  • Hot barley tea with honey (if you add warm milk, this is wonderful for helping you sleep)
  • Hot ginger tea with lemon and honey (particularly good for a cold that comes with a sore throat)
  • A nice, hot, steamy shower
  • And, of course, homemade chicken soup
Does anyone else have good home remedies? I know my dad has a few (perhaps involving hot pepper?), but I can't think of them right now...

Related Posts:

6 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Alan

    Pretty much any form of hot pepper helps with colds. The hotter, the better! ;-) In particular, gargling with red pepper in water every hour or so has been proven to shorten the course of severe sore throats, even when they are resistant to antibiotics.

  • Ewokgirl

    My husband's nephew has asthma, and he, too, receives some relief from coffee. It's an interesting remedy.

    I eat ginger Altoids when a migraine makes me nauseous. Ginger ale can help a bit, but I find Altoids to be much better, and I can carry them in my purse.

  • Ron and Ginny

    My husband was stung by a yellow jacket the other night and I made a paste of a little baking soda and water and applied it, thickly, on the sting, then I put a band-aid over it. The next day, you couldn't tell he had been stung.

  • CappuccinoLife

    I had the same experience with mild asthma as a kid. I hated what the inhaler did to me. I am not a coffee drinker but I started drinking a lot of caffienated black tea as a teen, so maybe it was that which helped me get rid of my asthma.

  • Harmony

    I would have thought, based on your screenname, that you were a coffee drinker. ;)

    Personally, I am a tea drinker -- but I almost always drink decaffeinated versions. Perhaps I ought to buy a few full caffeine varieties for situations such as this?

  • Harmony's Mom

    I have asthma, & before inhalers there was theophelin. The jitters I used to get after taking that were awful; inhalers are so much better. But I guess that explains why at track meets, when I couldn't breath & had no medicine, a coke helped some.