Asthma and allergies; causes and cures

By Dr Janet Winter on August 12, 2011

Any of you with asthma (or allergies e.g. hay fever) will probably know what your triggers are, maybe dust, pollen or exercise. You may also have other family members with asthma, so you know that asthma is “in your genes”.

So you may feel that you have a good idea what causes your asthma, and why you need drugs to control it. But did you know that the Russian doctor, Konstantin Buteyko, showed that these are only secondary reasons that you have asthma, and the primary reason is over breathing or hyperventilation. People with asthma breathe 2-3 times more air per minute than normal. This causes the airways to cool and dry and become irritated. Additionally, the normal levels of carbon dioxide in the lungs drop, and since carbon dioxide is a natural bronchodilator (opens the airways) then in people susceptible to asthma, as levels of carbon dioxide drop, the airways constrict, giving the usual symptoms of asthma; wheezing, breathlessness etc., needing medication to open the airways again.

But this is very good news as hyperventilation can be corrected. Firstly, the person with asthma is taught how to breathe in a relaxed manner, through the nose and using mainly the diaphragm (low). This is better than breathing mainly with the chest (high), which is an inefficient way to breathe, and often present in people with asthma and anxiety.

There are many ways to learn this relaxed breathing, physiotherapists can teach it, (e.g. Papworth method) relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy, yoga and meditation can help. However, the Buteyko method is the only complementary method that has had sufficient good quality research carried out to give it a “B” rating and a listing in the UK British Thoracic Society Asthma Guidelines. So doctors have been able to recommend the Butekyo Breathing Method with confidence since 2008.

Secondly, the Buteyko Breathing Method, in addition to controlling an asthma attack, also helps change the breathing pattern over time, not just tackling symptoms, but eventually making it unlikely to have an attack at all. This is done in a measured way, using the pulse and a particular estimate of breath holding time to monitor progress. Information about diet and exercise and other lifestyle factors also play an important part in the training.

The Buteyko Breathing Method is extremely effective, most people dramatically reduce their need for reliever medication within days, and some eventually come off preventer (usually steroid) medication. This is always done under GP supervision as it can be dangerous to suddenly stop medication. The method does take commitment, especially for the first few weeks, but eventually the exercises can be tailed off.

In the title of this article, I mentioned causes and cures. Doctor Buteyko showed that the cause of asthma (and allergies e.g hayfever) was over breathing, and the “cure” was to correct the breathing.

Of course this is not a cure as such, as if the breathing pattern goes unchecked and the person slips into the old bad habits of bad breathing, then the asthma will without doubt return! By being vigilant and checking pulse and breath holding time, this never needs to happen.

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