Can we stop asthma?

SHALINI SINHA

WE CAN LIVE several weeks without food, several days without water, but if we can't breathe for a few minutes, we'll die.

This is the constant fear and sense of powerlessness that is a normal part of life with asthma. Never knowing when or where another attack will come, not knowing that this can be ended, and realising that your life is full of limits are all features of the disease.

For the more than 470,000 asthma suffers in Ireland 'avoiding' things is a big part of coping with their condition: avoiding sports, dust, different foods, pollen, grass, pets, cigarette smoke and more. One mum told me, 'If you hear someone sneeze, you'd nearly run in the other direction. My son Joshua (7-yearold asthma sufferer) gets everything going!'

Derek, an adult suffering from asthma since early childhood, says, 'I usually start taking antihistamines from Valentine's Day and can't stop until the end of June.' This is on top of his regular asthma prevention and control medications which come with their own unpleasant side-effects. It is a life of constant medication and worry, where no one will tell you this could ever end.

What if you could learn to control and stop your own asthma? According to Buteyko Breathing Practitioners, by changing how you breathe you can gain control over your symptoms and your lives. This method, developed by Professor Konstanine Buteyko in the 1950s in Russia, teaches people to breathe only through their nose and reduce their breathing volume.

Breathing less, however, seems like exactly the opposite of what would make sense to resolve asthma. If one is already feeling they can't catch their breath or get enough oxygen, how could taking in even less possibly help?

One part of the answer lies in a scientific discovery made back in 1904, called ' The Bohr Effect'. Danish physiologist Christian Bohr discovered that while our blood could be full of oxygen, unless we have enough carbon dioxide in our body, it couldn't be delivered to our tissues. Reducing our breathing volume is a known way to maintain a sufficient level of oxygen but prevent losing too much carbon dioxide. Another piece of the answer comes from the role of carbon dioxide in helping smooth muscle to relax a dilate.

Therefore, breathing less helps airways open up and oxygen in our bodies to be used more effectively. For asthma sufferers, this means Buteyko offers a natural, drug-free way to gain back control and resolve asthma.

The fact this method challenges so completely how both doctors and patients are trained to think of asthma might explain why it is not more widely known. The fact that ultimately asthma suffers can eliminate their symptoms without the use of drugs, and that a majority of medical research is funded by pharmaceutical trials, contributes to this. However, because the Buteyko Method relaxes smooth muscle and increases oxygenation to every body system, it can have a positive impact on much more than just asthma. Throughout Ireland, people are taking Buteyko classes to address sleep apnoea, snoring, panic attacks, hay fever and much more. Indeed, Professor Buteyko first developed it to address his severe hypertension.

I was lucky enough to train with Patrick Mckeown, founder of Asthmacare.ie and author of the best-selling book, 'Asthma Free Naturally', and currently teach Buteyko Breathing courses in Wade's Pharmacy in Gorey, Evolv Health Stores in Enniscorthy, and potentially South Wicklow soon. A typical course runs for four weeks in which students gain a greater understanding of what is causing their symptoms, learn a variety of exercises to reduce breathing volume, and learn to measure their progress. Success depends greatly on and individual's willingness to do the work and make a difference. For many, the hope of a life without asthma is strong motivation for doing the work. I also work with students to enhance motivation and find ways of incorporating their exercises into their daily routine, making Buteyko part of their lifestyle rather than another chore. By the end of the course, most students have seen a marked improvement in their symptoms and the reality of control over their condition.

Buteyko becomes particularly useful for children as asthma is typically first arises in childhood. In addition, the increase in oxygenation to the brain that results from Buteyko exercises helps reduce symptoms of poor concentration and ADHD, while the way an increase in carbon dioxide helps balance blood ph reduces bedwetting. Another interesting fact is the connection between mouth breathing and crooked teeth in children. The techniques of Buteyko allow the facial structure to achieve its full growth potential and make room for a full set of straight teeth. Fun Buteyko classes specifically designed for children are now being pioneered by myself and my son in Gorey.

For more information on classes, contact Shalini at info@shalinisinha.com