A four-week program to teach asthmatics how to better control their condition by changing the way they breathe was developed by Thomas Ritz and Alicia Meuret, from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, US, Psychology Department.
During an attack, sufferers tend to hyperventilate, breathing fast and deep against constricted airways to fight an overwhelming feeling of oxygen deprivation. This makes the problem worse by lowering the body's carbon dioxide levels, which restricts blood flow to the brain and can further irritate already hypersensitive bronchial passages.
Patients who "overbreathe" on a sustained basis risk chronic CO2 deficiencies that make them even more vulnerable to future attacks. Rescue medications that relieve asthma symptoms do nothing to correct breathing difficulties associated with hyperventilation.
As part of SMU's "Stress, Anxiety and Chronic Disease Research Program," Ritz and Meuret use their biofeedback-based Capnometry-Assisted Respiratory Training (CART) to teach asthma patients to normalise and reverse chronic overbreathing. A hand-held device called a capnometer measures the amount of CO2 exhaled. Using this device, patients learn how to breathe more slowly, shallowly and regularly.
CART techniques could have a positive impact on quality of asthma treatment even as they reduce the need for acute care, Ritz says.
Save time and money
"The research shows that this kind of respiratory therapy can limit both the severity and frequency of asthma attacks," he says. "That means fewer doctor visits and less frequent use of rescue medications, with the associated savings of both time and money."
And for those who count any year without a trip to the emergency room as a year with a good treatment outcome, that means a higher quality of life, says Meuret, who lives with asthma herself.
"The training gives patients new ways to deal with acute symptoms, and that helps them to feel more in control," she says. – (EurekAlert!, September 2009)