Reading, Writing & Blowing Your Nose

To the sufferer of hay fever or allergic rhinitis, breathing through your nose is often almost impossible. And while it is not a life-threatening condition, it is exhausting and absolutely no joke.

When I suffered from this problem I never went anywhere without at least twenty tissues. I lived on pseudoephedrine thinking that it was helping, and imagining how bad my sneezing and sniffling would be without it. I was chronically thirsty and tired. I snored and usually woke up feeling a complete wreck. Twenty years ago I heard about Buteyko and from that point, my life was transformed. Buteyko is an absolutely stunning way for people to manage their asthma or rhinitis without drugs, and it worked like a dream for my family. I teach Buteyko now, but this story is not about self-promotion. It is about giving you information that you can use to improve your breathing, and start on a path of good health.

Breathing is the cornerstone of staying well because breathing affects the entire body. Every cell needs oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, and having the right balance of these gases means that all the other things that you do for yourself to stay healthy will work even better.

When I went to school, it seemed that we not only learnt reading and writing, but also "blowing your nose". Our teachers always seemed to be telling someone to use their handkerchief, which turns out to be very good advice, because breathing through your nose is the best way to breathe. The nose warms, moistens and filters the air so that when inhaled air reaches the lungs it is perfectly conditioned. The nose drives extra oxygen into the bloodstream, and saves water when you breathe out of it. The mouth does none of these things anywhere near as effectively as the nose, yet somewhere along the way lots of us have started breathing through our mouth.

I breathe through my mouth because my nose is always blocked.

It is a common misconception that you need to breathe through your mouth because your nose is blocked. According to Buteyko theory, your nose normally only blocks up when you start breathing through your mouth or try forcing more air through your nose than you really need to at that particular time, which lowers carbon dioxide pressure in your body. Of course, if you sniff pepper, your immune system will react in an effort to contain the foreign substance in one place while it deals with the problem. But under normal circumstances your nose will stay clear unless you hyperventilate, or breathe more air each minute than is required to complete an activity.


Hyperventilation can be subtle and does not necessarily mean breathing excessively fast or deeply. A healthy adult breathes around 12 times a minute, inhaling 4 - 6 litres of air. An example of hyperventilation is breathing 20 times a minute, which could cause 8 litres of air to be breathed. When done over a week 30,000 litres of extra air will have been inhaled, enough to fill a small swimming pool. No one notices if they breathe every 3 seconds instead of every 5, because breathing is such an automatic process that we pay little attention to it unless we want to put our face in water, or when it is hard to do. Your body knows that you are breathing too much though because carbon dioxide in the lungs and the bloodstream is washed out. Carbon dioxide is vital to the body because it regulates all bodily functions, either directly or indirectly. [reference]

From birth we are hot-wired to breathe through our nose, just like allt he other animals on this planet, because it is perfectly designed for breathing through. Noses warm, moisten and filter the air so that when the inhaled air reaches the lungs it is perfectly conditioned. It drives extra oxygen into the bloodstream, and saves water when you breathe out of it. So when you start losing excessive amount of carbon dioxide it is logical that the nose will down a little to reduce the loss.

The nose is also one of those things that when you stop using it, you start losing it. The more air you breathe through your mouth, the more your nose seems to block and the more irritated your lungs become. Fortunately the opposite is also true, so the more you breathe through your nose the better it will work for you.

A running nose is an irritation, but not a severe problem. Frequent sneezing is tiring and annoying, but not life threatening. And a blocked nose will not kill you because you can always breathe through your mouth. Right? Wrong! Some people even have trouble breathing through their mouth, and when they do, it is usually called asthma.


With an estimated 25% of children and 10% of adults afflicted with asthma in most western countries, it comes as no surprise that asthma is a major problem in Australia as well as a thriving industry. Leaders in the field, GlaxoSmithKline reported in 2004 that their sales of Seretide/Advair were up 19% at £2.5 billion and Astra Zeneca reported Symbicort sales totalled USD$797 million for the same year, up 32%. Three things occur in an 'asthma attack' , which is defined here as difficulty with breathing that requires a short-acting bronchodilator like Ventolin:

1. Smooth muscle wrapped around the airways spasms.
2. Swelling of the airway inner lining.
3. Excessive production of mucus.

These factors narrow airspace in the tiny tubes, leading to increased airway resistance and making it especially difficult to exhale out the precious carbon dioxide. As resistance increases, the person breathes harder, paradoxically increasing resistance. Air now becomes trapped inside the lungs, compounding the problem because the person wants to inhale before they have finished exhaling.

No one thing causes asthma to occur, and researchers argue whether the main problem is genetics or the environment. The environmentalists often disagree not only with the geneticists, but also with each other. For example, we are told:

• Immunisation encourages asthma.
• Immunisation prevents asthma.

• Having infections encourages asthma.
• Not having infections encourages asthma.

The gene theory seems likely because the airways of an asthmatic are abnormal. There is up to seven times more smooth muscle wrapping airways; five times more mast cells releasing inflammatory chemicals such as histamines; mucus-producing cells are larger and more numerous; and basal tissues of the airways are thicker in the asthmatic airways. These distinctions make the airways hypersensitive but researchers are yet to identify which genes could be involved. Most researchers agree however, that the underlying cause of asthma is airway inflammation, and the chemicals involved in this process damage the airways, causing 'remodelling'. So that even though symptoms are episodic, the airway change is permanent.

The Buteyko Rationalisation of Asthma

Buteyko practitioners would argue that while people with asthma may have a predisposition to it in the first place, these airway changes come about due to the body fighting to hold onto its valuable carbon dioxide. The easiest defence against the loss of carbon dioxide is to narrow the airways, making it more difficult to exhale. When you take drugs that over-ride this defence, the body will work harder, creating a stronger defence, hence the enlarged smooth muscle and other airway changes.

Asthma Medication

It was once thought that regularly taking a short-acting bronchodilator would lessen asthma symptoms but this theory was disproved in 1990 and instead of reducing symptoms, thousands of people have worse asthma, and thousands more have died. Even taking one puff of a short-acting bronchodilator every day causes deterioration in asthma control, and more medication is required due to drug tolerance. In spite of this, bronchodilators are dispensed as if they are harmless, and many users appear unaware that overuse could worsen their condition. Current recommendations are that these drugs should only be taken to treat acute symptoms, and if they are required more than three times a week, the person should also take an inhaled corticosteroid in a bid to reduce the symptoms.

Corticosteroids lessen inflammation and suppress the immune system, making airways less reactive to allergens. However, this suppression of the immune response could contribute to the growth of fungus and bacteria. The design of the respiratory system means that the lungs are normally sterile, and the deliberate inhalation of any substance is usually considered a bad idea, so the wisdom of inhaling something that prevents the body from defending itself against foreign bodies such as bacteria has to be questioned. However, it would seem that taking an inhaled steroid every day is a much safer option in the short-term than the over-use of bronchodilator medications.

Perhaps the worst part about asthma medication is that it is not very effective. The person takes it, yet still has symptoms, and no medication therapy currently available significantly alters the natural progress of asthma in a positive way.

Everyone's breathing pattern increases whenever they become stressed, such as being ill, over-heated, exposed to irritants, or in pain. If the stress is long-term, then the body adapts to this new breathing pattern and maintains it. It is this point that is largely ignored by asthma researchers. Conventional asthma management primarily sees hyperventilation as a result of the narrowed airways, rather than a cause. Buteyko theory states that hyperventilation is not only a result of narrowed airways, but also the main cause, and ordinarily if the person were breathing normally then it would not occur. 

Most people with asthma would not think that they are hyperventilating because a primary symptom is breathlessness, yet this theory is supported by research where asthmatics are reported breathing 10 – 15 litres of air each minute when they are at rest, instead of 4 - 6.

The Bohr effect

A century ago Danish scientist, Christian Bohr discovered what has come to be known as the 'Bohr effect'. When carbon dioxide pressure is low in the bloodstream, more oxygen is retained by the red blood cells instead of oxygenating tissues , and so the person feels short of breath or some part of the body malfunctions as the carbon dioxide syndrome sets because insufficient carbon dioxide also causes other problems:

• Smooth muscle throughout the body spasms.
• Extra histamine is produced.
• Airways narrow.
• Heartbeat speeds up
• Nervous system becomes agitated
• Respiratory alkalosis.
• Low carbon dioxide stresses the body, making hyperventilation almost relentless.

The Nose Connection

There is a distinct connection between nasal problems and asthma because those with allergic rhinitis are approximately six times more likely to have asthma than people without allergies, and 60% of adults with hay fever also have asthma. It is not surprising when you consider that it is simply a problem with a different part of the same tube and so if you can eliminate your rhinitis then you will help your asthma. Getting your nose clear and breathing through it will not only limit the number of irritants and germs reaching your lungs, but it is also the first step to using the Buteyko Method, which was developed by Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, and involves special breathing exercises and principles about breathing, diet and exercise.

In a clinical trial of Buteyko in Brisbane, the breathing pattern reduced by 31%, asthma symptoms reduced by 71% and bronchodilators by 96%. Ordinarily it is only possible to reduce bronchodilators by increasing corticosteroid use, yet these were also reduced by 49%. These results were mirrored in another trial conducted in Gisborne, New Zealand.

If the Buteyko clinical trial results were replicated in mainstream practice, within five years the incidence of asthma would be declining and there would be an unprecedented saving of monies currently allocated to health. Since the safety of asthma medications is in serious doubt, should we be surprised that Buteyko is not part of mainstream medicine? Keeping asthmatics dependent on medication makes a lot of money for a lot of people, so it is unlikely that this will change in the near future. Ideally Buteyko will be taught in schools, along with reading and writing, so that every child learns to breathe through their nose all the time. By doing this, asthma and allergy symptoms will greatly reduce. Try it and see.

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