A Breath of Fresh Air: Exploring the Functional Medicine Approach to Pediatric Asthma

Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition characterized by wheezing, breathlessness, and chest tightness, has become a prevalent concern, particularly among children in the Western world. The rising rates of childhood asthma have prompted a shift towards a more holistic approach to care, known as functional medicine, that offers new perspectives and solutions for managing this complex condition in young patients.

Let’s delve into the functional medicine approach to pediatric asthma, unveiling its potential to revolutionize asthma care and improve children's quality of life.

Learn more about our approach to integrative pediatrics.

The Asthma Epidemic: A Growing Challenge

Asthma's prevalence in the Western world has soared over recent decades, perplexing doctors and researchers alike.

Traditional medicine's approach to a child's asthma treatment typically involves quick-relief inhalers, corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, and immunosuppressants (1). While asthma medications can alleviate symptoms & decrease the frequency of an asthma attack, they can have long-term side effects. It's for these reasons, and that asthma is a chronic condition, that up to 89% of patients rely on holistic methods to more successfully manage their child's asthma symptoms (2).

Functional medicine provides a comprehensive and personalized approach to asthma care. Additionally, findings suggest that diet and lifestyle changes, mind-body therapy, and natural remedies like herbal & nutritional supplements, may help control symptoms with or without the use of conventional asthma medicines.

Early-Life Exposures: A Prelude to Asthma

Research suggests that early-life exposures can play a pivotal role in shaping a child's respiratory health and childhood asthma severity. A constellation of conditions known as the "atopic march" – comprising asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and atopic dermatitis (eczema) – often follows a specific pattern. Children with one of these conditions are at an increased risk of developing the others. Plus, abnormal lung functions in early childhood may predict the emergence of asthma later in life (3).

A 2019 study found that a child’s risk of developing asthma is lower the more the microbiota of the child’s home resembles that of a "farm-like" environment (4). This includes exposure to microbes present in the outdoor environment, including in the soil. The results call into question whether asthma could be prevented in the future by modifying children’s early microbial exposures. 

Related: These Microbes Hold the Key to Better Breathing

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A Deeper Dive into Immunity

Functional medicine views asthma not just as a surface-level symptom, but as a result of intricate interactions within the body. A dysfunctional immune response can lead to chronic inflammation and hypersensitivity in the airways, contributing to a child’s asthma symptoms (5). 

In the past, researchers have believed that childhood asthma occurs because of over-reliance on the adaptive immune system, or the part of your immune system that reacts in response to exposure to a specific antigen. However, recent studies have indicated that the development of the disease and subsequent asthma attacks could be traced to changes in both adaptive and innate immune systems (6). 

A recent review involving children showed that gut microbiome modulating agents, such as probiotics, could help prevent asthma and reduce the severity of asthma symptoms (7).

Functional medicine uses this information to create individual treatment plans that reduce exposure to common asthma triggers as well as include lifestyle changes, such as fermented foods, to boost gut health.

Shop: Children’s Probiotics

The Functional Medicine Advantage

Functional medicine approaches pediatric asthma from an integrative perspective. It combines conventional medicine like asthma medication with functional therapies to identify and treat the root cause of this chronic condition. This approach recognizes that each child’s journey with asthma is unique and tailors treatment protocols accordingly.

One primary reason for asthma development in children is early-life exposure to environmental toxins, cigarette smoke, allergens, and infections (8). These exposures cause changes to the child’s immune system, potentially making them more susceptible to developing asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, and abnormal lung function in later life.

To prevent asthma, the integrative approach suggests not only changes to the environment such as dust mite elimination, but also a diet rich in antioxidants, and other holistic therapies.

Uncovering Triggers

Functional medicine clinicians diligently explore the patient’s history, environment, and genetic predispositions. Identifying asthma triggers, such as allergens or environmental toxins, provides a roadmap for treating asthma in younger children effectively.

Dietary Changes

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in the management of childhood asthma symptoms. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and to support healthy function of a child’s airways.

One 2019 study found that children with higher levels of omega-3 in their diets had less severe asthma and fewer symptoms in response to higher levels of indoor air pollution. Also, children with higher levels of omega-6 in their diets had more severe asthma and more symptoms in response to higher levels of indoor particulate matter pollution (9). 

Lifestyle Modifications

Functional medicine emphasizes the importance of lifestyle modifications, including age-appropriate stress management techniques, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep. These factors contribute to overall well-being and can positively impact asthma control (10). 

Read more: Breath Easier—Natural Allergy Relief Tips

Gut-Lung-Immune Connection

A growing body of research highlights the intricate relationship between gut health and immunity. Until relatively recently, it was believed the lungs were sterile, but now we know they harbor a very distinct kind of microbiome (11).

Addressing gut imbalances through probiotics, prebiotics, and dietary adjustments can potentially mitigate immune dysregulation contributing to asthma. Similar to the intestinal microbiome, microbial communities likely have a major impact on the proper functioning of the lung and respiratory tissue.

Read more: Always Congested? Your Microbiome Holds the Secrets to Better Breathing 

Individualized Treatment

It’s imperative that you work with your doctor to develop your child’s asthma action plan to track their asthma symptoms as well as what to do in case of a severe asthma attack.

As always, seek emergency care if your usual quick-relief measures are not helping, or if your child is having trouble breathing.

Each child’s asthma journey is unique. Functional medicine practitioners create individualized treatment plans that incorporate dietary changes, targeted supplementation, and lifestyle modifications tailored to the child’s specific needs.

A Breath of Hope for the Future

Functional medicine offers a breath of hope for children navigating the challenges of asthma. The approach acknowledges the significant role that environment and lifestyle play in asthma development, as well as the need to develop customized treatment plans based on individual circumstances. By following functional medicine techniques like adopting healthy diets and lifestyles, using natural remedies and alternative therapies, and conventional treatments, parents and caregivers can reduce the symptoms and prevalence of asthma in children.

Functional medicine provides a path to improved pediatric asthma care that is both effective and sustainable, leading to happier and healthier kids.


  1. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma/treatment-action-plan
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1538544215002205
  3. https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/allergy,-asthma-immunology-glossary/atopic-march-defined
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-019-0469-4
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18768865/ 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2677400/ 
  7. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.821900/full 
  8. https://err.ersjournals.com/content/31/165/220020 
  9. https://www.thoracic.org/about/newsroom/press-releases/journal/2019/omega-3-and-omega-6-fatty-acids-may-play-opposite-roles-in-childhood-asthma.php  
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9513112/
  11. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41579-022-00821-x


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