Findings on Complementary Treatments for Asthma

If you have ever been unable to breathe, or witnessed someone having difficulty breathing, you probably wished you had an arsenal of treatments to battle this debilitating symptom of asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, and other breathing disorders. Currently, the only proven methods for controlling asthma are prescription medications and avoiding triggers, but other common treatments do exist. At the recent 2014 Association of Asthma Educators conference in San Antonio, TX, 34 asthma educators responded to a Harmonica Techs survey about alternative treatments for asthma.

Overall, 83% of the educators recommended breathing exercises, which include pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. “Asthma actually causes air to become trapped in your lungs, and some people find relief with pursed lip breathing, where you inhale slowly through your nose and then exhale twice as slowly through pursed lips, as if you were trying to whistle,” explained Mary Lou Keller, MS, co-inventor of the Pulmonica pulmonary harmonica. “Diaphragmatic breathing maximizes air distribution in the lungs, strengthens the muscles that work the lungs, increases oxygenation, and reduces stress. That’s a lot of power for such a simple act. When you inhale deeply, your belly should move outward from your body. Your chest should not be all that moves. Exhale twice as slowly with your abdomen moving inward, and concentrate on taking long and slow belly breaths.”

Further, 60% of the educators had recommended an exercise program similar to that found in pulmonary rehabilitation. “Many people with asthma are afraid that exercise will cause an attack, but if proper precautions are taken, such as using an inhaler prior to exercise or having an inhaler nearby, almost everyone can benefit from staying active at an appropriate level,” said Dana Keller, PhD, president of Harmonica Techs.

In addition, 51% of the responding educators had recommended relaxation therapy and meditation. Simple relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and breath meditation have been shown to be beneficial for people with breathing difficulties.

Of the educators, 34% cited inspiratory muscle training, which usually involves a training device such as an incentive spirometer. “Most people only use a relatively small percentage of their lung capacity, but by training the respiratory system against resistance with long, slow, deep, complete belly-breathing, research is showing that more of the lungs can be engaged,” said Keller. “A strong respiratory system is vital to strong circulatory and immune systems. For people who have a lot of mucus in their lungs, some resistance-training devices can help loosen the mucus and make it easier to eliminate.”

Rounding out the study, 20% of the educators mentioned playing wind instruments, which have long been thought to be good for the lungs. Besides the obvious deep breathing aspect of playing, the cerebral challenge and expression of creativity are good for mental health.

Other complementary treatments recommended by the asthma educators included vitamins and supplements (14%), massage and chiropractic (9%), acupuncture (9%), hypnotherapy (3%) and speech therapy (3%).

“We are proud that the top five most commonly recommended complementary treatments for asthma have all been incorporated into development of the Pulmonica,” said Keller. “Long, slow, deep, complete breathing is all that is needed to use the specially tuned pulmonary harmonica. The result is a relaxing breath exercise against mild resistance. No musical talent is needed to benefit from this instrument. The low vibrations help loosen congestion, and regular use is meditative and should help to engage more of a person’s lungs. Plus, the Pulmonica is fun to use, so compliance is higher than with a more medical looking device. Testimonials indicate that people who used the Pulmonica needed less medication, became more active, and enjoyed exercising their respiratory system with this innovative product.”

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