Welcome once again to my monthly column where we set the medical world to rights. This month I thought I’d move away from our usual discussion of musculo-skeletal woe and discuss asthma!
5.4 million people in the UK, of which 1.1m are children, are currently receiving treatment for asthma. That’s 7% of the adult population, and up to 15% of the children of Great Britain.
For of those that don’t understand asthma, I’ll explain. It’s where an irritation to the mucus membrane of the lung causes inflammation, this leads to swelling and causes the muscles making up the lung walls to contract, narrowing the airways. In many cases this also triggers an excessive production of mucus, which causes further restriction to airways.
The most common symptoms are wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and tightness across the chest, however not every individual will show all of these symptoms at anyone time. An asthmatic episode or attack can be triggered by a myriad of causes with varying potency. Examples include, animals, air pollutants, colds/ viruses, emotions, exercise, food, medicine, weather, and many more….
Many are able to manage their symptoms by avoiding obvious triggers, particularly when they have a mild presentation, however for most others medical intervention is needed. This comes in several forms, preventative inhalers, which are used prior to obvious triggers, relieving inhalers that help cut an attack short if the sufferer feels breathless, or steroid tablets, which are usually for more severe sufferers and only to be taken in short courses under a doctors supervision.
An important area many asthma sufferers fail to address is the physical changes asthma can cause to the body. Over many years of minor or major attacks, an altered breathing pattern develops causing the chest to expand largely in the upper section with a reduced involvement of the main muscle of breathing, the diaphragm. The diaphragm sits at the base of the ribs and descends into the stomach region to increase the size of the lungs drawing air in, as it relaxes it pushes air out. In asthma suffers you see a much smaller diaphragm movement which causes the neck and shoulder muscles to lift the upper ribs higher eventually causing tightness in the neck and shoulders, which can make a minor asthma attack feel more problematic than it might of otherwise. Correct breathing training and a good stretching routine can greatly improve the situation, whilst improving the posture and movement through the spine and ribs can give the chest a much more fluid and flexible feel. Well, what do you know, I’m talking about joints and muscles again, sorry, I just can’t help it, I am an Osteopath after all.