Breath of Wellness
The study found that, with both sets of techniques, the patients were able to reduce reliever inhaler use by 86 per cent, and controller use by up to 50 per cent.
Jenkins was surprised by the results. “The one we thought was going to be better was the one with nasal route of breathing [modeled after Buteyko],” she says. “The other set we thought wasn’t going to help. We used them more or less as a placebo.” But in fact patients who used either set of techniques had the same result.
Patients reported that when they experienced severe asthma symptoms, they still needed an inhaler. But when the symptoms were less intense, the breathing exercises alone sufficed. “We believe that’s because of a delaying mechanism where patients feel they have control and they can take some steps without using their reliever,” says Jenkins. “Their symptoms may only be short-lived, and they’re going to settle anyway, so they don’t reach for the reliever so promptly.”
As for the reduction in controller medication, this study did not show that the breathing techniques can reduce inflammation in the airways, the underlying condition in asthmatics. However, doctors partly prescribe the amount of inhaled corticosteroid according to how often the patient requires his reliever inhaler. Therefore, an asthma sufferer may see the dosage of his controller medication reduced if the number of times a week he takes a puff of the reliever has decreased for a period of time.
Jenkins and her colleagues created a video that explains the two techniques and it’s available free from the Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma and Airways. See it here.
Strategy 7: Butt Out!
“Everybody knows smoking is not a good thing if you have asthma,” says Bowser. Yet, many asthmatics continue the dangerous habit, and others won’t even quit for their children’s health: a study in Manitoba found that parents of children who were diagnosed with asthma were no more likely to quit than other parents.
Smoke can trigger an asthma attack in just about anyone who has the disease, as it leaves irritating substances in the lining of the airways. Smoke also causes the lungs to create more mucus, while at the same time causing damage to the cilia, tiny hair-like structures in the airways that are meant to sweep out dust and mucus.
Although smoking asthmatics should quit, it’s equally important for non-smokers to avoid being exposed to it second-hand. “Always follow a smoke-free living environment,” advises Jan Haffner, vice-president of health initiatives for the Lung Association of Saskatchewan. “Not only in the home or in the vehicle, but the workplace and recreationally as well.”
The Bottom Line: the leaner, fitter, more relaxed, smoke-free individual is likely to have fewer symptoms. And if you stick to an asthma medication plan that works for you, master some breathing techniques, and perhaps practise a little Ashtanga yoga? You’ll likely not only breathe better, but feel better for it.