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A natural way to flick the cough switch on asthma


McKeown teaches Buteyko
techniques to Emma Ryan and
Micky Mackey.

Patrick McKeown teaches Buteyko techniques to Emma Ryan and Micky Mackey.

Patrick McKeown teaches Buteyko techniques to Emma Ryan and Micky Mackey.

WE'VE all heard yogis extolling the virtues of breathing deeply into your belly -- and admonishing the ill-effects of shallow breathing.

The truth is that there are also ill-effects of overbreathing. And the most common category of people who display symptoms of breathing in more air than their bodies require are asthmatics.

Our asthma statistics here in Ireland are frightening. In 1983, it affected just 3pc of children, yet at the last count in 2002, it was estimated to affect up to 25pc. At this time of year, symptoms worsen.

While it's common to see kids with inhalers, there is a natural way that's easy to learn and apply, and it gets results.

Since 2002, Patrick McKeown of Asthma Care Ireland has taught thousands of children and adults the Buteyko Method, a nasal breathing technique developed by Ukrainian physician, Professor Konstantin Buteyko.

A chronic asthmatic himself from the age of three, Patrick first came across the technique in 1997. He used it first to correct his own overbreathing and has become a champion for those looking for relief.

"Anyone with a respiratory complaint will breathe more. But if you breathe too much, it causes your blood vessels to constrict. A person with asthma is breathing between two and three times more volume than a healthy person and it has a negative consequence on their life," says Patrick.

Buteyko, it appears, is the only treatment addressing breathing volume and emphasising the need for nasal breathing. "The reason, it has not got the attention it deserves is because it's so simple. We expect a complicated solution to a complicated problem like asthma," says Patrick

Seeing as I'm fortunate enough not to have asthma, I hook up with children who have given Buteyko a go.

Each of them participated in a group of no more than 10 adults and children who spent a halfday a week for three weeks learning a more efficient way of breathing, as well as looking at their diet, sleep patterns and eating habits.

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The golden rule of Buteyko is nasal breathing, small "mouse" breaths and holding your breath at the end of an "out" breath. For someone accustomed to breathing with their mouth open, it takes practice to decrease their breathing volume.

Eight-year-old Barry Callanan from Claregalway has had asthma since he was three.

Things took at turn for the worse this summer when his GP changed his medication.

"He gained a lot of weight and then fell off his bike with an attack. At that stage a friend recommended Buteyko and we haven't looked back," says his mother, Irene.

"I didn't like using my inhaler and I was always tired after sport," says Barry. "I had to learn to breathe through my nose but now it's much better and I can play sports as much as I want."

Fourteen-year-old Kate Quinn from Limerick has been hospitalised several times with asthma and commonly suffered from wheezing, coughing and terrible chest pains.

Her mother Mairead says that since she began Buteyko several months ago, she has improved many times over.

Kate adds: "It was weird learning to breathe through my nose, but it's made a big difference. Now I'm able to swim, cycle, play football and I'm about to restart Irish dancing."

Verdict: Barry: "It's hard at first but it's worth it."Irene (Barry's mum): "It's been like a miracle for Barry."

Kate: "If you have asthma you should try it -- it'll definitely help you."Mairead (Kate's mum): "The exercises are easy to learn and can be done in company without anyone having to notice."

- Buteyko courses cost €245. To enrol call 1800 931935 or log on to www.asthmacare.ie

Buteyko - How does it work?

The Facts

Over 40 years, Professor Buteyko completed pioneering work on illnesses resulting from breathing more air than the body requires. The Buteyko Method is not solely for asthmatics -- it is helpful for any overbreathing conditions, including emphysema, sarcoidosis and bronchitis.

Patrick McKeown has written three books on the subject, including the best-selling asthma book in the UK and Ireland -- Asthma Free Naturally.

The Evidence

Clinical trials show that within three months of using the Buteyko technique, asthma sufferers had 70pc less symptoms, 90pc less need for relieving medication and 50pc less need for steroids.

Asthma Ireland says it would expect a 50pc reduction in symptoms of anyone with asthma that attends a clinic within two weeks.

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