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Asthma - what is it?


Asthma is a disorder in which the muscles of the airways go into a state of spasm, so that the air tubes in the lungs, called bronchi, become narrow, impeding the passage of air. This leads to coughing, respiratory distress and wheezing. Breathing in often becomes easier than breathing out so that the lungs cannot empty and become over-inflated. Asthma is a potentially serious condition with an annual mortality of 2000 in Britain.

How many people does it affect?

Asthma is prevalent in 4-5% of the general population and is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Studies in several countries suggest that the prevalence is increasing in both adult and child populations, perhaps due to changing lifestyles and environments. It is therefore helpful for sufferers and their relatives to understand the potential health benefit both children and adults can gain from chiropractic care. This newsletter will discuss the symptoms of asthma and its connections with the spinal column, and how chiropractic treatment can help.

The symptoms of asthma

Patients have a characteristic wheeze and prolonged exhalation during acute attacks, which can come on suddenly. Most episodes occur at night and last one or two hours. However if they are due to emotional causes or follow upper respiratory tract infections they may be prolonged.

There are two distinct types of asthma; extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic asthma is usually seen in children but can affect anyone up to the age of 30 years. There are often other problems such as eczema and hay fever, and often follows acute respiratory infection. The person may have allergies, or a family history of asthma. Signs and symptoms may decrease after puberty.

Intrinsic asthma, on the other hand, can develop later in life. Intrinsic asthma has no known cause, onset is often in middle age and there may or may not be a history of extrinsic asthma and allergies.

Asthma affects so many people due to its many potential triggers, which include exercise, allergens such as house dust mites, seasonal pollen, animal fur, moulds, certain drugs, and certain foods (e.g. diary produce), infection, or even sudden changes in weather.

How the spine affects breathing

Each muscle in the body is linked to nerves which branch off from the spinal cord. When problems occur in the spine, the nerve may become irritated, so that the muscle supplied by the nerve can also become irritated and not function correctly. The muscles needed to breathe all get their nerve supply from the same parts of the spine. If these areas of the spine are misaligned, the nerve supply ceases to function correctly and the muscles required to breathe could also be affected.

Chiropractic treatment

This link between the respiratory muscles and the nerves branching off the spine explains why spine misalignments can exacerbate asthmatic attacks.

It also explains why many asthmatics witness improvements after chiropractic treatment. The chiropractor will make a detailed examination of the spine, which may include x-ray. He will then decide which misalignment of the spine requires manipulation in order to correct the problem. Correcting the misalignment can halt the chain of events which lead to closing of the airways and asthma attacks, resulting in symptomatic relief and a reduction in frequency of attacks.

Talk to a chiropractor

The sooner the patient is referred to the chiropractor, the better the prognosis, especially with childhood asthmatics. If you would like to talk to a chiropractor about how treatment could help your asthma.