Breathing technique has potential for Asthma sufferers The World Today - Thursday, 23 October , 2003 12:38:11
Reporter: Jo Mazzocchi
HAMISH ROBERTSON: Asthma groups are cautiously optimistic about the potential of a breathing technique that's now being studied to help asthma sufferers better manage their disease.
Known as the Buteyko method, it's previously been viewed by some medical practitioners as a dangerous fad and a controversial technique, because of its reliance on restricting air intake and reducing the need for medication.
But now, asthma researchers say the technique, when used in conjunction with other methods and medication, could be much more effective than previously thought.
Jo Mazzocchi reports.
JO MAZZOCCHI: Melissa is one of more than 2 million Australians who suffers from asthma. And although there's no cure for the condition, experts say its severity can be reduced by medical diagnosis, effective medication and good medical management.
Melissa has suffered all her life from asthma, but is now happy with her treatment.
MELISSA: You know, initially when I was a child there was only an oral medication that was just hideous, and I would always wheeze constantly. But now it's wonderful, the medication, and I never wheeze. I'm just so well-controlled on it.
JO MAZZOCCHI: She hasn't thought of trying the Buteyko method, a breathing technique used by some to help alleviate the symptoms of asthma.
MELISSA: At the moment, my asthma's so well-controlled that you know, I don't need to do it.
JO MAZZOCCHI: But in a study currently underway in Sydney, a number of breathing techniques, including the Buteyko method, are now being studied.
Dr Christine Jenkins is head of the Targeting Treatment project at the Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma.
CHRISTINE JENKINS: We're using a number of different techniques, and we're trying to tease out which of those techniques is the most influential in terms of achieving better control of asthma symptoms.
JO MAZZOCCHI: What's interesting about this study is the inclusion of the Buteyko method. A decade ago, it was viewed with a great deal of scepticism within Australian medical circles.
Dr Jenkins again.
CHRISTINE JENKINS: In the early days of the Buteyko practitioners, people were encouraged to stop their preventer medication. That's no longer the case. In general, that sort of reduction should be done always in consultation with your GP or your family doctor or specialist.
Now there are more studies, and there's more reason to believe that breathing techniques really do have something to offer. Just how much they have to offer, and how much they can change underlying treatment, and how much you need to continue it, is still a critical question which we're hoping to at least help to answer in this study.
JO MAZZOCCHI: The technique was first developed in the 1950s by a Russian doctor who went on to become Professor of Medicine, Constantine Buteyko. According to the group's official website, he linked hyperventilation to several conditions, including asthma, and set about developing techniques to normalise breathing patterns.
Paul O'Connell is the Australian Chief Executive of the Buteyko Institute of Breathing and Health.
PAUL O'CONNELL: Well, the essence of it is that there is a normal, healthy way to breathe, and people with respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, sleeping disorders, tend to overbreathe – actually breathe too much. So what the Buteyko courses teach is for people to learn to reduce their breathing back to normal levels.
JO MAZZOCCHI: Ten years ago it was described as almost a dangerous fad.
PAUL O'CONNELL: Well, possibly the way that it was initially presented and portrayed led some people to believe that.
JO MAZZOCCHI: Asthma organisations are now watching the study very carefully.
Robin Old is the CEO of Asthma Victoria.
ROBIN OLD: So our position, I think, over the last ten years or so, has changed, from one where we wouldn't have supported, to one where we now very much have an open mind and we're looking forward to some studies such as the one that's being done in Sydney at the moment.
JO MAZZOCCHI: Would you call it cautious support?
ROBIN OLD: I would call it cautious optimism that there might be some alternative that can help people.
HAMISH ROBERTSON: Robin Old, Chief Executive of Asthma Victoria speaking to Jo Mazzocchi. -