For people with asthma, speaking for long periods of time can trigger symptoms. Frequently at workshops people remark: ‘my coughing really starts at a meeting, or when I speak for long periods.’ There is a direct relationship between a person’s asthma problems and the amount of time spent talking, therefore this may help to explain why teachers make up the single largest professional group attending our work- shops.
In a classroom environment, particularly if it’s overheated or stuffy, recurrent chest infections and exacerbation of an asthma condition are common complaints. Indeed classrooms can contribute to the spread of colds and ﬂu and it is likely that teachers are particularly susceptible due to the amount of talking they routinely do: excessive talking can weaken the immune system from excessive loss of carbon dioxide.
Here are some suggestions which may help in addressing this problem:
Be aware of the need to minimise the amount of talking you do. Teachers or lecturers can use other means of communication such as video, tapes, CDs or even internet sourced items. Students could be encouraged to con- tribute more by reading or discussions. This can also be an effective way to generate interest and debate.
Try not to take a deep breath in through your mouth prior to talking. This will be difﬁcult initially as because you concentrate on what you are going to say, so trying to pay attention to your breathing at the same time will not come easily or naturally. Practice talking in front of a mirror for a few minutes each day, saying anything you like (the alphabet for example). If you are unable to breathe through your nose prior to every sentence, then start with just your ﬁrst sentence and get that right. Then try for two sentences, then three and so on.
Newsreaders use a particular style to add drama to their stories and many people unconsciously try to adopt this approach. This involves taking large breaths prior to long sentences in higher pitched tones. Many of the more severe hyperventilators I have met fit this pattern. Their sentences are unusually long and interspersed with deep upper chest breathing. The aim is to relax your speech, slow it down and reduce the emotional intensity of it.
Long sentences result in a large exhalation of carbon dioxide, so aim to shorten your sentences. This will add a sense of calm to what you are saying, and you will be more easily understood. Natural mid-sentence pauses are good.
An asthma sufferer can be easily identiﬁed in a telephone conversation because they inhale noisily, deeply and often with a wheeze, through the mouth before speaking. Aim to ensure that your breathing is quiet while you are talking because noisy breathing is indicative of over- breathing. Adopting nasal breathing and becoming more aware of your breathing during talking will help to reduce hyperventilation.
Observe how other people breathe while they speak. This will help you with your own breathing techniques. Look out for sharp inhalations of air and movement of the upper chest while others talk.
As you become more competent and relaxed at breathing through your nose while you speak, try talking at the end of an exhalation rather than directly after an inhalation. This will further conserve carbon dioxide during speech. For example:
Gently breathe in
Towards the end of your gentle out-breath, start talking. After the ﬁrst comma in your sentence, take a gentle breath in and let a gentle breath out. Start talking again.
Laughter is the best medicine
Laughter has been described as the best medicine for many ills, but you must learn to control your breathing during it. Constant laughter involves deep inhalations and exhalations causing a loss of carbon dioxide. A number of experts have recognised the role of laughter in contributing to asthma symptoms.1,2
During laughter, try to:
- Reduce ﬁts of laughter.
- Laugh with your mouth closed.
- Breathe in only through your nose.
- Hold your breath afterwards for a few seconds to replenish any loss of carbon dioxide.
Sometimes you just have to give way to a ﬁt of laughter; you can’t help it. But do help yourself to get your breath back by reducing your breathing.