Are there effective alternative therapies for asthma? Many researchers believe biofeedback holds promise as a way to help asthma patients.
What is biofeedback all about? It involves measuring a person’s body processes like heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, etc and providing this information to the person in real time. This creates awareness of these processes and in turn, can help the person gain conscious control over related body functions.
For instance, scientists have shown that a person can consciously influence his heartbeat. In fact, some studies at the National Institutes for Health have indicated that patients can be trained even to lower their blood pressure.
Biofeedback training is part of what is called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It was Dr. Neal Miller, a neuroscientist at Yale who first said that it is possible to exert conscious control over automatic body functions. The scientific and medical establishment of the time scoffed at his statement and held that such things are impossible.
However, subsequent research by several groups has shown that control over unconscious body functions is indeed possible. Many patients have found relief from migraine using biofeedback training. Some researchers are studying the possibility of using biofeedback as the main treatment for high blood pressure problems.
How does biofeedback apply to asthma?
During an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways are inflamed and contracted. If these muscles can be relaxed, air would flow more freely into the lungs and the distressing symptoms of asthma would be alleviated. Biofeedback systems train the patient to accomplish just that.
In addition, asthma patients often have abnormal breathing patterns. The Society for Applied Psychotherapy and Biofeedback says that ‘barrel breathing’ is one such pattern. This is when the asthmatic takes in a deep breath and then doesn’t fully breathe out. Instead, they take several shallow in and out breaths without emptying their lungs completely.
As a result, their lungs can’t be refilled with fresh air since they never empty fully when breathing out.
Using a process called pneumographic biofeedback, asthma patients learn to recognize their altered heart rates that occur during barrel breathing. And they learn to change their breathing pattern to lower their heart rate as well as improve oxygen intake.
Some studies have concluded that this type of biofeedback treatment not only reduced the symptoms of asthma but also brought down lung inflammation and resistance to normal breathing. The heart beat variability biorhythm treatment has also resulted in lowered medication use and better pulmonary function.
The National Institutes of Health advices asthma patients who wish to use biofeedback training to work with a competent trainer and to keep their doctor fully informed. The latter is important because asthma patients should be monitored regularly and medication may need to be adjusted from time to time.
Overall, biofeedback treatment is one of the more promising alternative therapies for asthma.