Every breath you take

Patrick McKeown, Asthma Care Ireland

Patrick McKeown

Patrick McKeown

Over half a million people in Ireland are affected by a chronic condition that affects everything they do; work, rest, and play.

A report out last month by the Small Firms Association of Ireland reveals that an average of eight days are lost each year to employee absenteeism, accounting for a staggering loss to the economy of at least €793 million.

Asthma loses us 12 working days and 10 school days a year

Research by the Asthma Society of Ireland shows a similar trend, with at least 12 working days per employee being lost each year to asthma related illness.

Ireland ranks as having the fourth highest number of asthmatics in the world, and its prevalence is increasing.

“In 1983 only three per cent of Irish children had asthma. That’s now 20 per cent. In the 13-14 year old bracket there has been a 40 per cent increase in asthma over the past 10 years. All these children are losing on average 10 days of schooling per year,” explains Asthma Care (www.asthmacare.ie/1800 931935 ) practitioner Patrick McKeown.

Such worrying educational and economic losses must prompt us to ask what more can be done to improve the lot of both asthmatics and the Irish economy.

Asthma has been with us for thousands of years, yet still no single cause can be determined, although it seems widely accepted that a genetic predisposition contributes.

“Some people can be asthma free until their 50s, when some element of stress can be sufficient to trigger a predisposition.

“Common beliefs are that asthma is caused by pollution or dust mites and that outside of medication it’s uncontrollable. This is simply not true. New Zealand for instance has the second highest asthma rate in the world, and that is not a polluted country.

Asthma is connected to the volume, not quality, of air we breathe

“It’s all to do with the volume of air we breathe in. There is a direct correlation between the amount of air breathed in and asthmatic symptoms, irrespective of any of the common triggers.”

Patrick teaches children breathing techniques that will halve their symptoms in a fortnight, without the necessity of their parents removing house carpets.

“If we can’t change the environment we live in, then let’s acquire the tools to deal with it.”

Buteyko offers a cheap, simple, effective alternative to medication

Every year in Ireland €400 million is spent on asthma medication, yet the cheap Buteyko technique has been proven to reduce the need for medication by 50 per cent within three to six months.

“Just imagine the savings to the State if Buteyko’s use was extended. The premise of the Buteyko method is that asthmatics over-breathe. While this is hidden, typical traits include breathing through the mouth, noisy breathing, sniffing, and regularly sighing. These habits disturb various blood gases and cause airways to cool and dehydrate. This results in inflammation of the airways and increased mucus. In other words, the airways narrow, making breathing more difficult.”

Research into the causes of asthma is vital, but to some extent, of secondary importance to sufferers. What asthmatics are most immediately interested in is how to control it. Enter the Buteyko breathing method, a technique that can be readily learned in Ireland from Patrick.

A former chronic asthmatic, Patrick has transformed the lives of thousands of asthma sufferers in Ireland and abroad by using an innovative, natural, approach of breathing.

Developed by Ukrainian Professor of physiology Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s to treat his own hypertension, the breathing method was officially acknowledged by Russian medical authorities in 1980 as having a 100 per cent success rate.

All asthmatics breathe via the mouth. Buteyko teaches to breath through the nose

“The basis of the Buteyko breathing method is keep your mouth closed and correct your breathing volume. How we eat and drink affects our health, so why not how we breathe?”

Dust mites, animal dander, pollen, cigarette smoke, pollution, and strong smells can all trigger breathing difficulty. One of the functions of the nose is to filter incoming air; medical textbooks recognise that the mouth is not an effective filter.

Another function is to warm the airways and trap moisture. Breathing in and out through the mouth means water is lost and we become dehydrated and tired. Drinking lots of water helps, but most people ignore water in favour of tea, coffee, alcohol, and fizzy drinks — all of which leach water from the body.

“Mouth breathers have generally poorer health, and may go through life with a permanently blocked nose. Furthermore mouth breathers suffer a higher incidence of cavity and gum disease.”

Endorsement of the Buteyko technique has recently come from Limerick Regional Hospital, where Professor John Fenton confirms that 75 to 80 per cent of patients presented to him suffering from rhinitis (blocked, runny nose ) have received great benefit following instruction at the Asthma Care workshops.

International clinical research reveals that within 12 weeks of adopting the Buteyko breathing therapy, asthmatics can expect 70 per cent less coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness, a 90 per cent reduction in reliever medication, and can cut their need for preventer medication by almost half.

“Former patients always offer the best testimonials as they’ve changed their own lives. Munster/Ireland Rugby Union footballer Frankie Sheahan has widely acclaimed the Asthma Care approach as significantly helping him on and off the pitch, and a number of asthmatic Galway sports people such as Damien Burke have treated themselves successfully.

“In addition The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, and RTE have covered the stories of many asthmatics who have reclaimed their lives using Buteyko breathing.”

The standard volume of normal breathing for a healthy person is six litres of air per minute. Asthmatics breath in two to three times that amount. Over-breathing, or hyperventilation, occurs when we breathe in more than our bodies need, which can lead to problems in any part of the body.

“It is known that asthma increases relative to improved living standards. The connection is that overeating, processed foods, stress, excessive talking, lack of exercise, and hot, stuffy conditions all contribute to over-breathing. These factors in turn cause airways to narrow, resulting in various asthmatic symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and breathlessness.

“Asthmatics are told that swimming can reduce symptoms, and in non-chlorinated pools it can. I’ve watched asthmatics swim with their faces in the water, using breath control. They’re perfect. Then they come out of the water and start to breathe through their mouths again, which reverses the benefits from swimming. There’s the connection.”

While research continues to offer us explanations as to why people contract asthma, the only known drug-free treatment available is the Buteyko technique, yet despite successful clinical trials in respected hospitals, it’s still not given serious consideration by the medical profession.

“This is changing thankfully, and I now get referrals from a number of respiratory consultants and GPs. Buteyko is a simple and cheap technique, and once trained in it, asthmatics can treat themselves, thus regaining control of their lives.”

Patrick reversed his own asthmatic symptoms using Buteyko

Patrick is living proof of reclaimed empowerment. Up until he learned the technique from the late Professor Buteyko in Moscow, he was denied many of life’s sporting pleasures, both as a child and as an adult. Now he regularly trains at the gym and goes for long country walks.

“I was out of breath as a child just walking with a schoolbag on my back, and I couldn’t take part in school sports. To play squash as an adult required me to take a cocktail of drugs. I tried lots of therapies — acupuncture, the Alexander technique, and homeopathy, but none of these worked. Much of the medication didn’t work for me either.

“Since learning the Buteyko technique I’ve been off medication for eight years and gained a whole new freedom.”

As a business/politics graduate from TCD, Patrick’s only reason for following a career in a medical-related field is that he turned his own life around by reversing his asthmatic symptoms, and wants to teach the Buteyko method to as many sufferers as possible.

Running a nationwide service since 2002 means that Patrick has a tough work schedule. He teaches the Buteyko breathing method through group workshops, which include a minimum of eight hours training and the use of a training manual.

Separate workshops, www.Asthmacare4Kids.com, are run for young asthmatic children and their parents, and children receive a fully illustrated storybook containing breathing exercises.

In addition Patrick guarantees all workshop attendees a year’s support by phone, e-mail, or by additional training.

The cost of the entire programme is currently an incredibly low €275, and Vivas Health members can reclaim €65 per adult and €135 per child against this.

Patrick conducts clinics in Galway, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Sligo, Wexford, Kilkenny, and Monaghan; two additional practitioners trained by Patrick offer clinics in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Asthmatics travel from far and wide to meet Patrick and learn how to treat themselves with Buteyko.

“I’ve had clients from the UK, Austria, Spain, Romania, and the USA. I would like to train more practitioners who are prepared to put in the time to learn effectively, especially if they are asthmatics themselves. I’m training in America shortly, and anyone interested can check out www.buteyko.ie

This website also features a YouTube video clip of asthmatics using the Buteyko technique, taken from a BBC television documentary.

Despite a heavy workload Patrick still finds time to write — but it is of course books to help asthmatics.

The author of three books, all of which feature in Amazon’s top 10 best sellers list: Asthma-free Naturally, Close Your Mouth, and ABC to be Asthma Free, Patrick has recently completely revised Close Your Mouth and filmed a DVD for the 22 million American and five million UK asthmatics.

“The Buteyko method has been recognised by the British Thoracic Society and has been subject to six published trials in the Western world. Before medication was used to treat asthma, it was not a killer disease — asthmatics just panted into old age. Medication was introduced purely to improve quality of life. Now 100 people a year die from asthma in Ireland.

The medical world needs to get on board

“If the medical world continues to dismiss the Buteyko method of controlling asthma over medication, people will continue to suffer needlessly, and that has to be morally and ethically wrong. There has to be a complete change of mindset.”

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