During the COVID-19 pandemic, lung health has not only been the focus for healthcare workers but for teachers, parents, elderly and everyone in between. We are in a time where people of all ages are having their respiratory health impacted daily. It’s even worse for people with underlining respiratory issues who are susceptible to negative long-term effects if contracting COVID-19.
From sunrise to sunset, many people never think about the breath they just took or the breath they are about to take. But there’s a group of people like my partner, Tig, who thinks about it daily:
At a very young age doctors told Tig that due to his severe asthma, he will never be able to participate in any of the school sports he loves - mainly football and wrestling. But unlike many, Tig didn’t take that as a solid "no." He learned to monitor his symptoms, identify his triggers, take his breathing treatments, and follow the doctor’s health regimen. In high school, Tig broke school wrestling records and went on to play football at Clemson University and the NFL with Titans until being forced to retire due to mechanical injuries. Tig continues to remain active at his current job as a Nascar jackman today.
Unlike many, Tig was one of the lucky ones who maintained his physical health while suffering from one of the most common respiratory diseases in the nation: Asthma.
According to AAFA.org, approximately 25 million Americans have asthma. That’s about 1 in 13 Americans! Black Americans are three times more likely to die from asthma than white Americans. A study identifying the burden of asthma on people’s lives found that
55 percent had symptoms more than once a day
48 percent used their quick-relief inhaler more than once a day
76 percent said they feel frustrated by their asthma
83 percent said asthma affects their personal relationships with family, spouses/partners, friends, co-workers and
78 percent said asthma was always in the back of their mind.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition where the air passages of the lungs become narrow due to inflammation and tightening of surrounding muscles. This narrowing obstructs airways, resisting air when you breath out making it hard to exhale. Some common symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and sense of tightness in the chest cavity. On average, symptoms are worse at night and with physical activity. Asthma symptoms have different triggers person to person but usually include exposure to smoke, dust, grass, pollen, weather change, animal fur, strong perfume scents and viral infections/ colds.
One of the most common treatments for asthma is the use of inhaled medication that opens airway passages, reduces inflammation, and relieves symptoms; these include
How about some non-pharmacological TREATMENTS to control asthma?
1. Respiratory supplements popular for lung health include:
Vitamins C, D, E
(Check with your doctor prior to ingesting these supplements to ensure no negative reactions)
2. Breathing techniques to help stimulate lung health
Diaphragmatic breathing technique: This breathing pattern facilitates deep relaxation by decreasing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system) and increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relax system). How to perform:
Sit comfortably with your feet parallel and flat on the floor, with your head, neck, and trunk in alignment.
Release tension from all your muscles.
Establish quiet, smooth, nasal diaphragmatic breathing; breathing in your nose, out your mouth and paying attention to how air fills your belly during inhalation.
Breathing normally, count the duration of inhalation and exhalation.
Begin by inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 4 (so each breath has a total count of 8). Gently and gradually lengthen your exhalation until it is twice as long as your inhalation (inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 8.)
Remember to be patient as you build your capacity.
Pursed lip breathing technique: This pattern creates a small amount of positive pressure that opposes the forces exerted on the airways during exhalation, relieving shortness of breath, decreasing the work of breathing, and improving gas exchange. How to perform:
Relax your shoulders and neck.
Inhale through your nose, breathing into your abdomen, for a count of two (or three or four.)
Purse your lips, like whistling or gently blowing on a candle to make it flicker.
Exhale slowly and completely for a count of four (or six or eight), making the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation.
Inspiratory muscle training: Use of a threshold breathing device like an incentive spirometer. How to perform:
Sit upright relaxing your shoulders and neck.
Inhale as deep as possible the device
Adjust level of inspiration each week to higher maximum tolerable load
Perform 2 sessions daily for 6 weeks
3. Aerobic exercise: walking on treadmill or swimming at moderate intensity, at least 20 minutes and two times a week, over a minimum period of four weeks can help with asthmatic flairs.
These techniques can help you gain control over your breathing. I want you to know that asthma is not the end of your active lifestyle, it may simply mean you need to manage it differently, like Tig did. He continued to remain active, exercise, monitor his triggers and take treatments as prescribed making him the most athletic, asthmatic person I’ve ever seen.
As we breathe today, let’s thank our lungs for working so hard and bringing us life with every breath we take.
Your Physical Therapist,
Dr. Mièka Bryan PT, DPT
Wu X, Gao S, Lian Y. Effects of continuous aerobic exercise on lung function and quality of life with asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Thorac Dis. 2020 Sep;12(9):4781-4795. doi: 10.21037/jtd-19-2813. PMID: 33145051; PMCID: PMC7578506.
Madariaga VB, Iturri JB, Manterola AG, Buey JC, Sebastián NT, Peña VS. Comparación de 2 métodos de entrenamiento muscular inspiratorio en pacientes con EPOC [Comparison of 2 methods for inspiratory muscle training in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. Arch Bronconeumol. 2007 Aug;43(8):431-8. Spanish. doi: 10.1016/s1579-2129(07)60099-8. PMID: 17692243.
National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System: Mortality (1999-2018). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts