Asthma and allergies are unfortunately a very common occurrence for kids, especially as the seasons change in Wisconsin. During springtime, we often see an influx of children with allergies issues, congestion, and asthma. However, just because something is common, does not mean that it’s normal. There are many different factors that impact these challenges, and we want to bring awareness to common causes of these problems, what’s been going on that has made allergies and asthma increase, what is happening with our children’s bodies as they experience these symptoms, and what can be done to allow your children to function better. We’ll break these down into two separate blog posts so you can easily navigate how you can help your child with asthma and allergies!
To start things off, it’s important to understand the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system because that will set the stage in determining if the body will be able to overcome these challenges. When it comes to allergies and asthma, the immune system plays a big role to determine how a person will respond to different things in the environment. With asthma, the immune system will control the amount of inflammation in the airways in response to any foreign substances that are inhaled or ingested. This can impact breathing and could potentially trigger an asthma attack. With allergies, a similar response happens, but many people often experience itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, hives, and rashes.
However, a key element to remember is that it’s not about the pathogen or germ or substance itself that determines asthma or allergies (or any immune function), it’s about that person’s ability to ADAPT and overcome that potential threat. And that’s where the nervous system comes in to play big time. If it were really about simple exposure to pollen or grass, or bacteria, or viruses, or environmental chemicals, then everybody would be showing signs of immune challenges, allergies, and asthma and have the same problems and the same severity of symptoms. So what is it that allow one person to overcome these challenges while others seem to have troubles with them? Again, it comes back to that person’s ability to adapt to the stresses that are around them. That is what the nervous system does. It perceives the environment and coordinates the behavior of how the entire body adapts to those stressors. Those different stressors include physical stress, chemical stress, and emotional stress. If that person has a strong nervous system, it can easily adapt and fight off potential threats to the body by sending proper messages to the immune system. Then, they won’t be showing signs of stress to the body, which can include colds and asthma and allergies.
We want our body to really be able to adapt and regulate all of its functions properly. And chiropractic care is the key to that process because it improves the function of the nervous system. The nervous system has two different modes of operation: the sympathetic and parasympathetic sides. It’s important that these two modes remain in the proper balance. What tends to happen is that different stressors will build up and tip the scales to favor the sympathetic side. This side is what we like to call the gas pedal mode of the nervous system. It is that fight or flight response that is supposed to kick in when an acute stress comes at you. However, the stress that our kids are facing day in and day out is piling up at an alarming rate and causing them to get stuck in that protection mode with an inability to properly adapt to stress. When they are stuck in that mode, the functionality of the opposite side, the parasympathetic nervous system, gets diminished. The two modes have an inverse relationship, just like many other physiological functions in the body. We call the parasympathetic side the brake pedal mode because it’s responsible for rest, relaxation, digestion, growth, healing, development, and proper immune function. So when our kids are stuck in the gas pedal mode, their proper immune responses are being turned down and they cannot overcome whatever potential threat is coming their way. Therefore their bodies are overcome by that challenge and symptoms of asthma, allergies, colds, and so many different things can present themselves.
So now that you have an understanding of how the immune system and nervous system are so connected to allergies and asthma, we’re going to dive into each one of these challenges separately. We’ll start out with asthma. Asthma is something that is dramatically increasing in our kids. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma is the leading chronic disease in children and is the top reason for missed school days for kids. Researchers found that the yearly cost of asthma is the US is 56 billion dollars (https://www.aafa.org/asthma-facts/).
There are several reasons why this number is increasing at such a fast rate. We see more chemicals in our environment, so there is a lot more chemical exposure to our lungs that can cause irritation, and we’re seeing that there are so many more kids that have the inability to adapt to those chemicals. We live in very air tight, insulated houses that keep all of these bad things out, but they also keep all the chemicals in. So one big action step is to lessen the amount of chemicals you are using in your house to give your kids and yourself less exposure to all of them. This ranges from laundry detergent to plastic to cleaning spray to personal care products. You have to be very mindful of all of those chemical irritants, especially if you have a child with asthma.
Another reason why we’ve seen an increase in asthma is due to an increase in the number of Cesarean section births. Now this might not be something on your radar, since asthma doesn’t usually kick in until kids are maybe 5 or 6 years old, but there are studies done that show a more than two-fold higher risk of developing asthma if a baby was born via C-section (https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/UAlbany-study-finds-link-between-C-sections-and-13775722.php). This is because when baby doesn’t go through the birth canal, they don’t get what I like to call nature’s first adjustment. When a baby descends down the birth canal, they take in all of the beneficial bacteria from mom that helps jump start the flora in their gut. This is so important because 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, and like we talked about earlier, the immune system, along with the nervous system, determines how your child’s body will adapt do different stressors and challenges that it encounters. Another thing that happens as baby descends down the birth canal is that there is a compression that occurs in the chest cavity followed by the chest springing out as the baby is born. What that does is it jump starts breathing for the infant. It also helps propel all that fluid from their lungs. If a baby was born via C-section and didn’t get that springing open of the chest, we see that they can have a lot more issues, whether that’s chest colds, croup, asthma, upper respiratory problems, and bronchitis. So that’s something to keep in mind too that if your child is struggling with asthma, if that’s in their history, then they also have a higher susceptibility within their lungs to other challenges as well.
Another factor that contributes to an increase in asthma is our germ killing frenzy. Hand sanitizer, antibacterial soaps, Clorox wipes – all of these are not beneficial for our immune systems. In fact, studies show that children being raised on farms or around dirt and wildlife have more exposure to germs and develop much healthier immune systems, which lowers the risk of asthma (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5682224/). This is in comparison to kids who grow up in very sterile environments. Their bodies are not exposed to these generally harmless germs, and therefore are unable build up their immune systems as effectively. When babies and young kids put things in their mouths, they are essentially exposing their bodies to small amounts of germs and that allows the immune system to get practice. That will set them up to better combat other bigger challenges in the future.
When we think about all of these different factors, you have to remember that it’s not just about what the child is exposed to. If your whole family is all in the same house, with the same environment and they all encounter the same chemicals and irritants, if only one child has asthma, there’s got to be something else that’s a big factor. Like we mentioned before, maybe the birth history is the difference if one child was born via C-section and one wasn’t. But really, the biggest component is the ability of that individual to adapt to those stressors. If they’re not fully able to adapt, there’s a neurological component that comes in that weakens their body and allows for more susceptibility for those challenges to overcome their immune system. That neurological component is where a specifically trained pediatric chiropractor comes into play. By unwinding that stress on the nervous system, chiropractic care can improve the body’s ability to adapt and will activate a proper immune response. In fact, research shows that there is a 45% decrease in the number of asthma attacks in children after receiving chiropractic care! If you’re interested in finding out if chiropractic can help your child, feel free to reach out to our office and we would be happy to assist you!
Stay tuned for the second part of this blog to get a deep dive into allergies and how you can help your child function better to overcome the challenges that go along with allergy symptoms!
Dr. Jill Mork is a pediatric and prenatal certified chiropractor and the owner of Family First Chiropractic of Verona. She focuses her practice on families, infants, kids, and pregnant women. She takes a special interest in children with neurodevelopmental challenges. Her mission is to empower families to take control of their health and well-being. She believes that the body was designed to heal and function properly. By approaching the body from a functional standpoint, she utilizes chiropractic care to free up the interference on the nervous system and allow the body to work like it was designed to. Her office is located in Verona, WI and she serves those in Verona and from Fitchburg, Oregon, Middleton, and the surrounding Madison area. To improve the quality of life of you and your family, contact Dr. Jill at 608-497-1801.