Asthma does not have a do-it-yourself treatment program. Even mild asthma requires medical supervision, and more severe asthma requires a thoughtful treatment plan. Doctors often give asthma patients a steroid inhaler and a bronchodilator to help open constricted airways. Combination products such as Advair have become popular, since they contain two drugs in one puffer. We’re not here to discuss the pros and cons of asthma medications, but we can try to provide backup in a pinch. Imagine that you have packed your asthma medicine in carry-on luggage for a flight from Akron to Philadelphia. As you approach the boarding gate, however, you learn that the “puddle jumper” airplane cannot accommodate your overstuffed carry-on. The gate attendant unceremoniously tags your luggage, and off it goes to the underbelly of the airplane. Midway to Philly, your lungs get a bit twitchy and you start to wheeze. You can’t ask the flight attendant to get your luggage. But you can ask for strong coffee, a remedy that often helps asthma sufferers.
I was wondering about coffee and asthma. Coffee works for my asthma! Which works better? Caf or decaf? Should it be brewed, or can it be instant? I am going on vacation this month, and it would make me feel better to know these things, in case I run into trouble.
Physicians have known about the beneficial effects of coffee for treating asthma since at least 1859, when the Scots noted it in the Edinburgh Medical Journal. Research has shown that caffeine can open airways and improve asthma symptoms.1 Caffeine is related to theophylline, an old-fashioned drug used to treat respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema. The recommended dose is usually three cups of strong coffee for an average adult. Decaf coffee will not work. Instant coffee contains less caffeine than brewed coffee, so a person seeking relief might need a few more cups of instant. Green tea also helps open airways but takes longer to do so. School nurses even use Mountain Dew soda for kids who left their inhalers at home. However, no one should rely upon coffee, green tea, or Mountain Dew to control asthma symptoms. Although these drinks can help in a pinch, prescribed medication offers more reliable relief.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic