Asthma Sufferers, Hold Your Breath

Buteyko method

As someone who developed exercise-induced bronchospasm (mild asthma) only after coming up to Cambridge, having never suffered in childhood, I was rather disappointed to find myself on first one inhaler then a second. The discovery of breathing techniques that helped me control my reliance on bronchodilators, such as Salbutamol, has come as something of a breath of fresh air. Although saying that cold, fresh air is one of the triggers for an asthma episode as fellow sufferers will know.

Anyway, asthma sufferers everywhere could benefit from breathing exercises that allow them to regain control of their breath, reduce wheezing and breathlessness, and in time cut down on their reliance on inhaled medication. When I mentioned these techniques to my GP during a general checkup, he confessed that before inhalers were available, breathing exercises were all that he and his fellow practitioners could prescribe for mild attacks. What goes around, comes around it seems.

Across the UK more than 5 million people suffer the potentially debilitating effects of asthma, and many millions more around the world. Diagnosis is usually straightforward and most sufferers are prescribed one or both of two kinds of inhaler – an inhaler to reduce symptoms (Salbutamol, for instance) and another to reduce the underlying inflammation in the lungs (something like beclomethasone).

Learning to control one’s breath and to breathe through the nose is important for asthma sufferers and something many fail to do, especially when asleep.

Five golden rules for reducing your asthma symptoms:

  1. Breathe through your nose
  2. Take control of your breathing
  3. Control your symptoms
  4. Look after yourself
  5. Use your medication effectively

    You are best advised to talk to your GP about the potential of breathing techniques for you and at the very least to adhere strictly to Rule 5. Whatever you do, do not abandon your medication.

9 thoughts on “Asthma Sufferers, Hold Your Breath”

  1. Interesting article. Learn breathing techniques is a fundamental question for all asthmatic. Thanks for the information!

  2. David, For me it is just not scientific for people to engage in so much research on a subject and to bemoan the ghastly situation with the increase in asthma deaths coinciding with modern treatment and then ignore powerful breath techniques (see for example and As I pointed out, an asthmatic uses a spray to inhale better. For a research worker then to ignore such techniques to boost or even supercharge his respiratory system is hard to understand and seems to me even to be a form of fundamentalism.

    Another aspect of asthma pointing towards more use of breathing techniques is impairment in the bronchial circulation leading to ischemic damage with hypersensitivity to allergens and cold. RF.

  3. Richard, I wasn’t sure whether or not your comment was a criticism of my post or not and am baffled by your statement “To me asthma itself can not be a mystery as long as an obvious scientific approach is ignored”? What are you saying, that you could explain asthma if you ignore science.

    However, on the point of breathing…it’s fairly crucial, right? My own GP told me that until the advent of inhalers (bronchodilators), physicians generally recommended breathing exercises for their patients and Buteyko would (regardless of its claimed underpinnings in blood CO2 levels) seem to be one way to help control the breath and avoid potentially lethal attacks in an emergency where medical assistance or drugs may not be immediately available.

  4. To doubt the accepted etiology of asthma would apparently seem to be a sacrilege, like accusing all medical doctors of being involved in a giant conspiracy or worse and indicating “denialism”. However because of the vast dimensions of the asthma problem, one aspect should also be considered.
    It is established in research (Dr. Gwen Skloot) that an asthmatic has difficulty in inhaling. However eastern breathing techniques for improving the ability to inspire are not considered.
    Consider the mechanism of inhaling in “The Circulation System” by J. Steven Alexander Ph.D ( When the Power Point file is on screen, depress the right mouse button and load slide 18. It is clear that on inhaling pressure in the abdomen is increased. It would therefore be logical to suppose that increasing such pressure would aid an inhale. This technique is a fundamental part of eastern breathing routines which refer to putting pressure on the Tanden (in Japanese) or the Dantian (Chinese) during an inhale. The fact that the Tanden cannot be anatomically recognized should not cause difficulty in view of the substantial circumstantial evidence of beneficial effects on breathing.
    Slide 18 refers to:
    “Respiratory (Abdominothoracic) Pump
    * Inspiration
    * decreased intrathoracic pressure
    * increased transmural pressure in thoracic cavity
    * distends vessels
    * decreased resistance and effective ‘suction’ of blood
    * enhanced venous return”
    Assuming that the changes in pressure are linked together, the beneficial effect of increasing abdominal pressure (Japanese technique) might well promote suction in the chest and the distension of its blood vessels. and hence improvement in blood supply to the lungs. Asthmatic narrowing of airways might well be due to an attempt to balance air supply to the lungs, which are not getting enough air.
    A further difficulty with accepted asthma etiology is that the extremely thoracic or collar-bone breathing in attacks might well be a failed but intelligent tactic of the body which in principle is correct but flawed by lack of abdominal pressure.
    To me asthma itself can not be a mystery as long as an obvious scientific approach is ignored. Richard Friedel.

  5. Jo, ever been checked out for a gastric hiatus hernia, gastro esophagal reflux disease, or just plain vanilla indigestion? I’m pretty sure that acid fumes in the gullet could irritate the airways (I’ve definitely suffered my worst episodes of bronchospasm after a heavy meal).


  6. Robert: I also have eating-induced asthma, after every meal except breakfast. I don’t understand why this happens, but without fail I will start coughing and wheezing after lunch and dinner. I can’t find any info about it on the internet.

  7. Robert, there is certainly evidence that gastric reflux can cause wheeziness as droplets of acid from stomach make their way up the oesophagus. In fact, I used to find that a big meal and perhaps a little too much to drink could trigger quite a heavy bout of wheezing.

  8. I’ve also developed an asthma type thing just in the past year. I’m about 99.7% sure it’s from exposure to a nasty, proprietary material that got stirred up here at the lab building where I work. It’s improved greatly after the company spent a frantic few weeks cleaning up the evidence, but there’s still some hanging on. I still get a noticeable bit of wheeziness after vigorous exercise, and believe it or don’t, after eating. It doesn’t seem to matter what I’ve had, but I have a definite period of constriction after meals. I’m speculating it has something to do with vasodilation spilling over from my digestive tract. Has anybody else noted eating-induced asthma?

  9. Great article David,

    I enjoyed learning about Buteyko.

    But increasing evidence points to the fact that asthma is a bacterial illness. Check out this recent study that was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine:

    “Childhood asthma after bacterial colonization of the airway in neonates”

    In a related editorial, Dr. Erika von Mutius, from University Children’s Hospital in Munich, Germany, commented that the findings may be interpreted to suggest that the presence and growth of bacteria in the throat in the first four weeks of life “indicates a defective innate immune response very early in life, which promotes the development of asthma.”

    In fact, there is a medical treatment known as the “Marshall Protocol” that uses carefully chosen pulsed, low-dose antibiotics and a medication that activates the innate immune system to kill the bacteria implicated in asthma and many other diseases of unknown cause.

    I know a few people on the treatment who are reporting complete resolution of asthma – one child whose parents now claim she is a soccer star.

    One important consideration – if asthma is a bacterial illness then you definitely do NOT want to use corticosteroid medications such as beclomethasone. The reason that steroid meds make people with asthma feel better is simply because they slow the activity of the immune system – temporarily preventing bacterial death and the painful release of cytokines that occurs when they die. But in reality since the immune system isn’t working up to par, the bacteria have a field day and can spread more easily to new tissues and organs.

    For those interested in the Marshall Protocol check out:

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