The 2018 Global Asthma Report indicates that asthma affects as many as 339 million people worldwide, and its occurrence is rising.¹
According to the Asthma and Allergies Foundation of America (AAFA), asthma affects 1 in every 13 people.² Asthma is a chronic condition that inflames the bronchial tubes, which allow air to flow in and out of your lungs - the inflammation and swelling cause these passages to narrow, making breathing hard. It then becomes difficult to take new air into the lungs.
If you have asthma, you may encounter breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, coughing and producing a whistling sound when breathing out. Although asthma isn’t curable, many ways exist to treat and manage the symptoms.
Several prescription medications are available to prevent or improve asthma symptoms, some of which are commonly referred to as rescue inhalers or “puffers.”
However, your doctor may also suggest the therapeutic use of magnesium to ease airway constriction.
This article covers several considerations for potentially adding magnesium to your asthma management plan.
Before taking any new medication, please speak to a licensed healthcare professional.
Only a doctor can confirm the appropriateness of using magnesium to alleviate your asthma.
Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Asthma.
Some of asthma's characteristic symptoms are wheezing, difficulty breathing, and making a whistling noise when exhaling.
These symptoms may also be accompanied by:
Overproduction of mucus in the airways
Rattling sound when breathing or coughing
Shortness of breath
Even if your asthma isn’t severe, you may experience daily symptoms like coughing and chest tightness.³ If these symptoms persist or worsen, you may need to consult your doctor about adjusting your treatment plan.
You may need emergency medical help if you experience an acute or sudden asthma attack. Seek immediate medical attention if you have warning signs or symptoms⁴ such as:
Severe breathing difficulty, panting, or persistent breathlessness while resting
An attack that is not relieved by inhalers
Lips or nails that take on a blue or gray tinge
Inability to finish a sentence without pausing to catch your breath
Straining muscles or struggling to find a posture in which you can readily breath
Confusion or agitation
Heavy sweating and cold, damp skin
Loss of consciousness
What begins asthma’s inflammatory process has yet to be fully understood. Still, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the condition commonly occurs in childhood while the immune system develops.⁵
Several factors may combine to cause asthma, particularly
Your environment Exposure to allergens in your surroundings, like smoke, pollen, chemicals, or dust mites can trigger asthma.⁵
Infections Respiratory infections can affect your breathing and cause asthma.⁵
Family health history Genetics can increase the likelihood of asthma, especially if a parent has asthma.⁵
There are two common types of asthma medications:
Until recently, short-acting medications, such as albuterol, were commonly used to treat asthma.
However, the Global Initiative for Asthma’s 2021 strategy report⁶ no longer recommends that asthma patients use short-acting medications like albuterol.⁶ ⁷
Examples of long-term medications used to reduce airway swelling and prevent asthma attacks include:
Bronchodilators — these asthma medications relax muscles around the breathing tubes, opening them up and easing airflow.⁸
Inhaled corticosteroids — this type of inhaler reduces inflammation in the bronchial tubes.⁹
Leukotriene ("loo-koh-try-een") modifiers — this group of medications reduces inflammation and mucus secretion, and they are also used to treat allergies.¹⁰
According to an analysis¹¹ of a randomized clinical trial, most asthma management guidelines suggest IV magnesium sulfate (MgSO₄) as a support for children with severe, acute asthma.¹¹
Sometimes, magnesium sulfate is administered to asthma patients who experience severe flare-ups, often in intensive care situations where other treatments have failed.¹² So, magnesium is not a first-line treatment for asthma.
There is limited evidence about the effectiveness of using magnesium sulfate to treat severe asthma. For instance, a 2014 study¹³ examining the effectiveness of magnesium sulfate in reducing asthma symptoms and hospital admissions could not demonstrate a meaningful clinical benefit.¹³
The researchers studied over 1,100 adult patients with severe acute asthma, randomly assigned to receive nebulized magnesium, IV magnesium, or standard therapy. Their findings indicated weak evidence that IV magnesium lowered hospitalizations.¹³
A 2013 study¹⁴ of over 500 children with severe asthma flare-ups who were unresponsive to usual treatment found no significant improvement in the children who received standard treatment and nebulized magnesium sulfate.¹⁴ However, researchers found that children with more severe symptoms showed a more noticeable response to the treatment.
They also concluded that “no harm is done by adding magnesium to salbutamol and ipratropium bromide, and in some individuals, it may be clinically helpful.”¹⁴
There is limited research on the effectiveness of taking magnesium supplements for asthma relief. Further inquiry into magnesium deficiency and lung function may be worthwhile due to magnesium’s role in bronchial smooth muscle contraction. Researchers report that those with asthma often have decreased levels of magnesium.¹⁵ If you are considering using magnesium supplements, start by discussing the risks and possible benefits with your doctor.
Once you discuss incorporating magnesium in your asthma action plan with your doctor, you will get advice on the appropriate dosage. Excessive consumption of magnesium can lead to serious side effects and can even be fatal. Symptoms of magnesium toxicity or hypermagnesemia may include:¹⁶ ¹⁷
Severe muscle weakness
Paralysis of the lungs
Magnesium can also interact with other medications, so please inform your doctor of any drugs you are currently taking.
It’s important to manage asthma carefully to help avoid complications, including:
Increased mucus production¹⁹
Permanent narrowing and thickening of bronchial tubes² ²⁰
Fatigue and interference with day-to-day life²¹
Inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, and bronchodilators are common medications used to treat or prevent asthma symptoms. If you have severe flare-ups unresponsive to standard treatments, your doctor may recommend some form of magnesium as part of your asthma care plan. While current evidence regarding magnesium sulfate’s effectiveness is inconsistent, it may reduce the need for hospital admissions due to severe asthma attacks. Whether your symptoms are mild or severe, always consult with your doctor before making any changes to the way you manage your asthma
Asthma facts | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Uncontrolled asthma vs. severe asthma: How to get the right diagnosis | American Lung Association
Asthma | Emergency Physicians.org
Causes and triggers | National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Guidelines | Medscape UK
Inhaled corticosteroids (2010)
Leukotriene modifiers - asthma | American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
Association between intravenous magnesium therapy in the emergency department and subsequent hospitalization among pediatric patients with refractory acute asthma secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial (2021)
Magnesium toxicity (2022)
Pneumonia and asthma... Why should I worry? | American Lung Association
Airway remodelling explained | Asthma Canada