By Chris Bauman, MA
Of all the possible solutions, the simplest one could just be learning and practising this breathing technique.
Jimmy was a slight, energetic youngster with straight blond hair and blue eyes. They used to be bright and happy blue eyes but things changed the spring he turned five.
It started with the grass. Then it was blossoms. It seemed like nature was hitting him with a histamine storm, triggering flaming eyes and constant congestion. When he wasn’t wiping his nose, he was rubbing his eyes. His sleep suffered. He would wake up in the morning exhausted, half off a bed that looked like it had been in a fight with him. He became cranky and whiny. The sunshiny child his mother, Joan, loved seemed to have gone south for the season.
Like 40 percent of the Canadian population, Jimmy had seasonal allergies. His immune system had gone crazy, considering trees and pollens to be major threats instead of innocuous natural occurrences. The immune system produces an antibody called IgE within the mast cells located in the mucous membrane of the nose, upper airways, lungs, skin, and intestinal tract. IgE releases histamine which triggers a cascade of symptoms such as sneezing, mucus production, inflammation, and itchiness. Some reactions can trigger other misery such as headaches, fatigue, irritation, and brain fog.
Official medical websites recommend three lines of defence. The first is oral antihistamines such as Claritin, to be bought over the counter to suppress the histamine reaction. When Jimmy’s mother reluctantly gave such an oral solution to her child, he experienced diarrhea and then an upper respiratory tract infection. This then meant that he had to have antibiotics, which his mother later found out can make a child more vulnerable to inflammatory bowel disease . She already knew that gastro-intestinal health was necessary for a strong immune system.
So, when Jimmy was coming around to six the following spring, Joan was determined that this year would be different. Instead of going with antihistamines, she approached her doctor who made two new suggestions: allergy shots or nasal corticosteroids. The doctor indicated that it would be to “get Jimmy over the hump.” But taking Jimmy to get weekly shots did not appeal, and steroids set off an alarm in Joan’s head. She checked out the many side effects, including stunted growth. She was relieved to find that the last was unlikely. But the more she investigated, the more uneasy she became. How could having allergies be such a complicated thing?
Joan knew she needed to do something fast. Jimmy’s nose was constantly clogged. He had a box of tissues in his desk at school. The other children were starting to ostracize him for the goobers that would drop to his t-shirt. He was coming home upset and crying.
One day Joan was expressing her concern to her mother, who asked, “Is the window in Jimmy’s room open?” Joan looked at her mother blankly and then said slowly, “Yes … and it’s right next to the cherry tree.” “You could shut his window,” her mother offered.
This obvious suggestion changed Joan’s focus—she started looking at other common-sense ideas instead of medical ones. She made sure Jimmy’s bedroom was cleaned more regularly and she washed his stuffed monkey along with the sheets. She cut out dairy and wheat from Jimmy’s diet and reduced the sugar, even though he complained. Things were starting to shift. She got online, looking for natural solutions. And the simplest one of all turned out to be breathing.
She found out that Jimmy’s inability to breathe through his nose was actually a serious thing.
When we are exposed to triggers such as pollens or mildew, our breathing changes immediately. It becomes laboured, faster and noisier. We switch to mouth breathing. This single act means we suddenly take in more of the allergens deeper into our respiratory system. Instead of being trapped by the cilia hairs in our noses so we can sneeze or blow them out, the allergens move deeper through our upper airways and into our lungs. Histamine reactions become stronger, with increased mucus and swelling, causing coughing and tightness in the chest and sinuses. The immune system goes on red-alert, misreading the relatively harmless allergen as a deadly enemy.
Instead of the mucous membrane of the nose catching dust and germs, our secondary filter is forced to kick in—our adenoids and tonsils—but they too can be overwhelmed, becoming swollen and inflamed. This then makes it even more difficult to breathe. If the inflammation becomes chronic, then surgery to remove them is often recommended. And of course, when anyone is struggling to breathe, it sets up anxiety and even panic, which makes our breathing even worse. We start to use our breathing muscles inappropriately or dig a trench of poor breathing patterns.
Returning to healthy breathing was a big step for both Joan and Jimmy. After more research, Joan found out about the Buteyko Breathing Technique developed in the 1950s by Konstantin Buteyko, a Ukrainian medical doctor. She located a Buteyko breathing coach for Jimmy who was able to unblock his nose in one session. This initial success was supported by more sessions focused on breathing exercises, postural changes, essential oils designed to keep his nasal passages open, sleep hygiene adjustments, and games to improve his breathing, posture and ability to exercise with ease.
Today, Jimmy is almost allergy-free. He does breathing exercises leading up to the allergy season each year and is more vigilant about hydration, diet, and sleep during this period. He takes no medications, loves school, and his sunny disposition has returned. The tissue box is on the kitchen counter now, instead of inside his desk.
Chris Bauman, MA, is the foremost Buteyko Breathing educator in Canada. She left her position as a professor in Japan to teach Buteyko in 2000, after Buteyko transformed her own health. She was a clinician for the first Canadian medical study on Buteyko in 2004 at Foothills Hospital in Calgary. Chris is a founding member and president of the Buteyko Breathing Educators Association. She has worked in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand and presently teaches, lectures, and trains across Canada. Visit www.breathinglady.com.
*Reprint from our Spring 2016 Issue