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Children should keep their mouths shut! The benefits of nasal breathing for asthmatics


It is that time of year again when South African schools select sports teams and start preparing for inter-house athletics days. So many young children are put under pressure by schools and parents to partake in their schools sports days or try out for teams. What should be a fun introduction to the year, becomes a time of anxiety or disappointment because they are unable to join in due to breathlessness in exercise. Asthma or exercise induced asthma is a common ailment that can shape a child’s active life forever.

The benefits of nasal breathing for asthmatics

The Oxygen Advantage Program is a set of propriety breathing exercises developed by Patrick McKeown for the benefit of active individuals, recreational athletes and elite sportsman. Patrick is a Buteyko breathing practitioner, who through years of experience and research, has developed the program and written the book The Oxygen Advantage.

Asthmatics suffer from airway constriction resulting in breathlessness. They feel a total lack of air. Unfortunately as they try and breathe in more air through the mouth, thinking this the best way to inhale larger volumes of air, the cycle is exasperated leading to severe breathlessness or asthma attacks. The airborne pollens, grasses and dust whipped up by summer and winter winds across the country, aggravate the situation especially on the sports field.

The Oxygen Advantage program addresses what is considered to be dysfunctional breathing. Dysfunctional breathing in relatively healthy individuals can be defined as simply as over breathing through the mouth. Nasal (through the nose) breathing is actually how we breathed as new born babies and infants. The silent, rhythmical, diaphragmatic breathing into our bellies is the way we should breathe for optimal respiratory health.

What are the benefits of nasal breathing for asthmatics? The nose filters airborne triggers and warms the air before entering the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing as opposed to breathing into the upper chest, draws the inhaled air, and therefore the oxygen, deeper into the lungs to be absorbed by the blood vessels in the lungs. Considered the wonder molecule, Nitric Oxide pools in the nasal cavity. This is the only place in the body where Nitric Oxide (NO) pools and can be drawn into the airways by inhaling through the nose. Nitric Oxide opens the airways in the same way that Nitric Oxide in the bloodstream dilates the blood vessels and arteries for better blood flow. Exhaling through the nose also keeps the nasal lining warm and moist preventing swelling and blocked nasal airways which in turn aggravate the breathing.

Breathlessness can be measured by taking the simple BOLT test. The breath holding test on an exhalation, measures the sportsman’s ability to tolerate what has always been considered a waste gas of breathing, Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The higher the tolerance of CO2, the less the individual has to breathe. The normal breath hold time after an exhalation for a healthy individual or child should be between 20 and 30 seconds.

Slow nasal breathing draws the NO into the lungs. The breath holding exercises retrains the brain centre to tolerate CO2 reducing the need to breath as often. Simple daily breath holding exercises during rest and exercise will reduce breathlessness unless the individual suffers from other respiratory tract abnormalities resulting in blockage of airways. The relaxed breathing pattern will also assist the individual with anxiety. The benefits of a higher CO2 tolerance in sportsman can be found in the Science.