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Asthma Summary

The Buteyko Institute Breathing Method has been known in Australia since the early 1990s for the management of asthma. The basis of the method is to normalise the breathing pattern. This results in a significant decrease in symptoms, with over 90% of course participants coming off all of their reliever medication within a week of starting the course.

The Buteyko view is that asthma is not a disease, but rather that it is a collection of symptoms – bronchospasm, mucous production and inflammation of the lining of the airways. All are brought on by breathing above the normal physiological level of 4-5 litres per minute. This overbreathing or hyperventilation causes an imbalance of the gas levels in the lungs and the blood. In particular we breathe out too much carbon dioxide. For normal healthy body functioning, the body needs about 5.5% carbon dioxide in the lungs. If we overbreathe and lower the level of carbon dioxide in the lungs (the air has only 0.03% carbon dioxide) the result will be the onset of symptoms.

  • Carbon dioxide is a natural smooth muscle dilator or relaxant. When we have too little carbon dioxide our smooth muscle (which is wrapped around the tiny air tubes of our lungs) will go into spasm - experienced as tightness and difficulty breathing out.
  • Oxygen is slow to be released from the blood (Bohr Effect and the Oxy-Haemoglobin Dissociation Curve). This will be experienced as breathlessness.
  • Mast cells, responsible for part of our immune response become super-sensitive to perceived allergens, releasing large amounts of histamine, producing inflammation.
  • Over-breathing dries out the airways, inflaming them and encouraging mucous formation

The goal of the Buteyko Method is to teach people to normalise their breathing pattern. When breathing rates are normal, the level of carbon dioxide within the body will be normal and the body functions well. The smooth muscle around the airways will stay relaxed, oxygen will move more quickly from the blood to all the cells, mast cells will function appropriately and the mucous membranes of the airways will not be inflamed.

By learning the Buteyko Method people are able to overcome most asthma symptoms by using the breathing exercises. This enables a reduction in asthma reliever medication.

Asthma Statistics

Asthma management in the western world has changed little in the past 40 years, other than the introduction of more potent and varied medications. Both the incidence and death rate of asthma in many developed countries has steadily increased, and medical science seems to be no closer to identifying the cause.

  • Several hundred Australians die from asthma each year.
  • Over 2 million Australians have been clinically diagnosed with asthma.
  • Over 25% of Australian school aged children have asthma.
  • Over 12% of Australian adults have asthma.
  • The incidence of asthma in Australian school aged children has increased significantly in the last 30 years.
  • The number of prescriptions for asthma treatment in Australia is estimated to be over 10 million per year.
  • Asthma is the most common chronic illness of children and adolescents.
  • The total cost burden of asthma to the Australian community is estimated to be over $1 billion per year.
  • This total of over $1 billion consists of both medical related costs and indirect costs due to lost productivity and absenteeism.

Buteyko Institute of Breathing & Health

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