When Irish flights are cancelled, asthmatics close your mouth!
While volcanic ash plumes over Ireland may have been an isolated event in the past, this is no longer the situation. For how long the Icelandic volcanoes roar into the atmosphere and cast a fine dust cloud of silica covering northern Europe is impossible to know. While the direct effect on flights is obvious, there might be wider implications for children and adults with breathing difficulties such as asthma.
The word asthma originates from the Greek word meaning panting. While the condition has been around for a long time, it has increased exponentially in the past twenty years. The condition affects more boys than girls during childhood and more females than males during adulthood. Stress is often a factor preceding late onset asthma.
A popular explanation explaining the increased incidence is the hygiene hypothesis of lower exposure to infection during childhood, which results from improved living standards. However, challenging this hypothesis, there is growing evidence that in many affluent countries the prevalence is higher among those in low socio-economic status. These socio-economic differentials in asthma support a role of environmental factors in the development of asthma.
So what are the environmental factors and how do they cause asthma? As we become wealthier, our lifestyles change and this has a significant affect on the way that we breathe. With modern living we eat more processed foods, overeat, do less physical exercise, experience more stress and have higher temperatures in the home. Jobs in the modern economy tend to be service-based. As a result they entail very little physical activity and many hours of talking. In addition we are subjected to the unhealthy belief that prevails in gyms, sports class, stress counselling and even western Yoga about the benefits of big breathing. The modern western lifestyle has quite a profound influence on our breathing- IT INCREASES IT.
This explanation concurs with the work of Russian Doctor Konstantin Buteyko who discovered that asthmatic children and adults habitually breathe a volume of air greater than what is required. For example, the mouth might be open, there may be periodic sighs and there will be visible movements of the chest and tummy. This is supported by a number of clinical trials indicating that the breathing volume of asthmatics is two to three times the normal amount of five litres per minute as determined by the World Health Organisation.
Dr Buteyko discovered that the heavy breathing of the asthmatic is causing their airways to tighten resulting in chest tightness, coughing wheezing and breathlessness. Buteyko espoused that asthmatics must always breathe through their nose and keep their breathing calm and quiet. His method is now recognised by the British Thoracic Society, has been subject to six clinical trials and is taught as part of nurses Masters Degree programme at Coventry University.
It would be fine if volcanic ash clouds remained high in the atmosphere out of reach of our breathing, but with reports of particles found on cars in several places in Ireland and the UK, there is no point in throwing caution to the wind. Given the physiological benefits of the nose as an effect filter of airborne particles, it remains our first point of defence.
An estimated 60% of asthmatics have rhinitis or “asthma of the nose”, making breathing through it somewhat difficult. Part of the Buteyko Method contains a simple breath hold exercise to free the nose;
• Take a small breath in
• Have a small breath out
• Pinch nose with fingers to prevent air flow
• Nod head up and down for as long as possible
• When you feel a strong need to breathe, let go of the nose and breathe through it
• Calm breathing immediately
Wait about one minute for your breathing to recover and repeat about four times. In five minutes your nose will be free!
Patrick McKeown was a chronic asthmatic for most of his life. As a child he recounts “waking up fighting for breath and wheezing on his way to school as he carried his school bag”. McKeown has a Masters degree from Trinity College Dublin, but ten years ago after he made a full recovery from his condition, he left it behind to become a Buteyko practitioner. He is one of a few people to study under the tutelage of the late Dr Buteyko and now his work takes him throughout Ireland, Europe and the USA. In addition he has penned four books including his most recent book linking overbreathing to anxiety called “Anxiety Free”.
Finally, when you hear of flights to and from Irish airports being cancelled- take the obvious action of keeping your mouth closed, breathing through your nose and keeping your breathing calm. While this should be an everyday occurrence, it becomes even more important when fine ash particles are present.