Buteyko for Asthma

Do you experience chest tightness? Wake up most nights fighting for breath?

Do you get the suffocating feeling of being desperate to take in more air but never feel satisfied, no matter how deeply you breathe? Do you avoid taking exercise because it makes you feel more breathless? Do you often have a stuffy nose and therefor breathe through your mouth a lot of the time? Do you feel panic if you leave the house without your inhaler?

The Buteyko method of breathing can correct your breathing habits that are exacerbating your asthma so that you can breathe freely through the nose. It does this by changing the volume of air taken onto the lungs, and once the respiratory centre in the brain is reset to this new volume of air, you can make life long changes to your asthma symptoms and a better quality of health.

If you are asthmatic you may well be over breathing. This means you are breathing too much. What does this look like and sound like?

  • Mouth breathing day and night intermittently
  • Audible breathing during rest and an irregular pattern to breathing
  • Taking large breaths prior to breathing
  • Breathing into the upper chest
  • Breathing is effortful
  • Heavy breathing at night
  • Waking with a dry mouth(because you have been sleeping with your mouth open)

Instead of taking  normal 10-12 breaths per minute you may take between 15 to 20 breaths per minute. This means that between 10-15 litres of air is going onto the lungs. This is above and beyond what your lungs need. We all know that eating too much causes symptoms in the body and that if we cut down on the amount we eat, we will feel better. The same is true of breathing. If you cut down the amount of air you breath  your health will  improve.

The onset of asthma symptoms causes the airways to constrict, leading to a feeling of suffocation. In order to relieve this feeling you  start to over-breathe and so you  start to breathe faster and a greater volume. The breath becomes harder and faster leading to greater constriction of the airways and then the only relief is medication.

Asthma is associated with inflammation. The inflammation causes the airways to thicken. The resulting fluid and mucus may result in bronchospasm and asthma symptoms. When the airways narrow a feeling of breathlessness occurs. As you have a feeling of a lack of air you try and compensate by breathing faster and by increasing the volume.  This can lead to a shift from nose breathing to the instinct of breathing through the mouth. But mouth breathing offers no protection to the lungs. Cold, dry air goes down the airways. Added to the dust mites, pollen, exhaust fumes  from traffic pollution and any airborne pathogens that are out there, the lungs have little protection from pollutants  in the atmosphere. You are then more prone to coughs, colds and air born viruses.

A  research trial was carried out in Brisbane Australia at the Mater hospital in 1994.  19 people followed the Buteyko method for 12 weeks and 20 people followed the hospital’s in-house program for asthma. After 12 weeks practising nasal and reduced breathing, the Buteyko group showed a 70% reduction in symptoms, a 90% drop in their need for rescue medication , and a 49% decrease in their need for inhaled steroid medication. The control group who were taught physiotherapy exercises, experienced no change. The British Medical Journal states in it’s physiotherapy guidelines for adults “the Buteyko Breathing technique may be considered to help patients to control the symptoms of asthma”

People with asthma frequently suffer with poor sleep, particularly if the asthma is severe. This then in turn impacts on  quality of life both in terms of physical and mental health.  A vicious cycle is established of breathing harder and faster which increases turbulence in the airways. This in turn  can lead to snoring and more seriously sleep apnea. Coughing at night can also be a problem. This in turn wakes you up and then it’s difficult to get back to sleep again. If the lungs are inflamed this can feed up the airways to the nose, causing inflammation in the nose and hence nasal stuffiness.  A blocked nose increases feelings of breathlessness and encourages more mouth breathing, thus making your symptoms worse as you breath harder and heavier, drying out the airways further. Upper chest breathing goes with mouth breathing. This is a highly inefficient way of breathing as it inhibits oxygen transfer from the lungs to the blood. This means that not enough oxygenated blood is getting to the tissues. All these factors combined will inevitably lead to day time fatigue. 

So how can we increase uptake of O2 into the bloodstream? The techniques of slow, reduced breathing and breath holds taught in Buteyko will help reduce over breathing at night. Doing the breathing exercises just before bedtime can reset the breathing pattern for the night.

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