Asthma is a chronic lung disease that narrows and swells the airways, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma patients may even experience tension in their bodies because they have to put extra effort into breathing. The chest walls can become rigid and not move as easily to allow the flow of air into the lower chest and diaphragm area. The muscles of respiration (basically the muscles that contribute to inhalation and exhalation) will remain tense even when there is no critical breathing problem.
Symptoms of this chronic lung disease include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma can be triggered by anything from allergies, cold air, respiratory infections (i.e. the common cold), stress, and medications.
Common risk factors include:
- Family history
- Gender and age (asthma is more common in children although the risks are relatively equal for both males and females)
- Smoking (cigarette smoke irritates the airways)
- Air pollution (smog exposure increases the risk of asthma)
Asthma can interfere with daily activities and eventually lead to life-threatening asthma attacks. The good news is that controlled breathing exercises can help!
Researchers believe that asthmatics breathe faster than those with normal lungs. Many asthma sufferers also have a tendency to breathe through their mouths, exposing the lungs to cooler and drier air (an asthma trigger). Breathing exercises that encourage shallow, controlled breathing might reduce asthma symptoms and the need for medication.
Breathing Exercises for Asthmatics
- Buteyko breathing: This breathing technique teaches asthmatics how to consciously reduce their breathing rate or breathing volume. Sit upright and relax your chest and belly muscles while breathing. To keep focused, close your eyes and look up toward the ceiling. Gently breathe slowly through your nose (keep your mouth shut). Exhale slowly until you feel like there is no more air left in your lungs. Next, hold your breath for as long as you can and then return to gentle breathing.
- Physical movement exercises: This breathing exercise combines both physical and breathing elements. Good posture is key. Close your eyes; relax and concentrate on your breathing while sitting in a resting position. First, focus on breathing with doing shoulder rotations. Next, focus on breathing while performing arm raises.
- Diaphragmatic breathing: This is a simple technique that will maximize air distribution in your lungs. You can either sit or lie down for this exercise. Focus on breathing slowly through your nose. When you inhale, make sure your abdomen moves out. Next, exhale slowly, with your abdomen moving inward. The exhaling phase should be twice as long as inhaling.
- Papworth method: This breathing method is similar to the Buteyko method and diaphragmatic breathing. These breathing exercises should help people with mild asthma that is caused by rapid breathing or mouth breathing. This method focuses on a calm and regular breathing rhythm. It also involves breathing through the nose and using the diaphragm and belly while doing so.
- Yoga: Yoga involves holding poses and concentrating on breathing. A study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that regular yoga practice (i.e. a few times each week) improve symptoms and quality of life for people with asthma. Participants in the study saw symptoms reduced by up to 43%.
- Progressive relaxation technique: This technique will help you relax the muscles in your body. Lie down, close your eyes and concentrate on breathing through your nose. Tighten the muscles on your right foot and hold for 20-30 seconds, relax and feel the tension release. Repeat with your other limbs. When you’re finished, your body should feel weightless.
- Pursed lip breathing: This type of breathing method is beneficial if you are suffering from an asthma attack. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale through pursed lips; exhale as if you are trying to whistle. This breathing exercise should be done while using the diaphragmatic breathing technique.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a great complement to your breathing exercises and will reduce the possibility of future asthma attacks.
Avoid your triggers:
- Decontaminate your décor: Minimize the amount of dust you inhale as you sleep by regularly cleaning or replacing items in your bedroom. Enclose and sheathe your mattresses, box springs and pillows in dustproof covers. Remove carpets and install hardwood flooring. Regularly wash curtains and blinds.
- Proper humidity: If you live in a damp climate, you might consider using a dehumidifier.
- Clean regularly: Clean your home at least once a week. If you encounter dusty areas, wear a mask or have someone else clean.
- Use an air conditioner: Air conditioning will reduce the amount of airborne pollen from grass, weeds and trees that flow indoors. It also lowers indoor humidity and reduces your exposure to dust. If you don’t have air conditioning then keep your windows closed during pollen season.
- Reduce pet dander: If you’re allergic to dander, avoid having pets with feathers or fur. Bathing and grooming your pets on a regular basis may also reduce the amount of dander in your household.
- Cover your nose and mouth during cold season: If one of your asthma triggers is cold or dry air, then wear a face mask if it’s cold outside.
- Keep a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can worsen asthma symptoms.
- Control heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Acid reflux causes heartburn, may damage your airways and trigger your asthma symptoms. If you suffer from frequent heartburn, speak to your doctor about treatment for GERD.
- Pace yourself: Asthma can be challenging and stressful at times, so try to take breaks in between tasks and avoid activities that will make symptoms worse.
- To-do list: A to-do list will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and exasperated. Reward yourself for each goal you accomplish.
- Chat with others who have your condition: Use the Internet, message boards, chat rooms or support groups to connect with others who are facing similar asthma challenges.
Medications That Treat and Prevent Asthma
In many cases, doctors will prescribe long-term asthma control medications to help keep asthma symptoms under control and reduce the likelihood of asthma attacks.
Speak with your doctor about using your medications in conjunction with breathing exercises:
- Inhaled corticosteroids: When used on a daily basis, these medications help prevent asthma symptoms and improve lung function. Adverse side-effects are low and they are safe to use on a long-term basis.
- Leukotriene modifiers: These medicines are used to prevent asthma symptoms and manage allergies. They work by blocking the action of inflammatory molecules known as leukotrienes. Chronic asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens and leukotrienes are one of several substances released by mast cells during an asthma attack.
- Long-acting beta-adrenoceptor agonists: When taken in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid, these help relax the muscle bands that surround the airway, allowing for easier breathing.
- Combination inhalers: This is the combination of two controller medications in one inhaler to help stem and prevent asthma attacks. Research shows that patients with moderate to severe asthma who use combination inhalers have fewer attacks than those on two separate inhalers.
Quick relief medications are used for rapid and short-term relief during an asthma attack:
- Ipratropium bromide inhaler: This quickly relaxes airway muscles, making it much easier to breathe.
- Short-acting beta agonists: These relax airway muscles and provide fast relief of asthma symptoms, such as wheezing.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“9 breathing exercises for asthmatics,” Respiratory Therapy Cave web site, September 26, 2011; http://respiratorytherapycave.blogspot.in/2011/09/9-breathing-exercises-for-asthmatics.html.
Frea, R., “7 Breathing Exercises to Control Asthma,” HealthCentral web site, last updated June 11, 2014; http://www.healthcentral.com/slideshows/7-breathing-exercises-to-control-asthma/#slide=1, last accessed October 20, 2015.
“How Breathing Exercises Can Help Asthmatics,” allhealthhealing.com, http://www.allhealthhealing.com/health-holistic/how-breathing-exercises-help-asthmatics.php, last accessed October 20, 2015.
“Asthma,” Mayo Clinic web site, October 17, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/basics/symptoms/con-20026992.
“Asthma Risk Factors,” Healthline web site, September 24, 2014; http://www.healthline.com/health/asthma-risk-factors#Overview1.