Manage Your allergies
When we talk about allergies, we are talking about allergic rhinitis, which has the following symptoms. How many of these do you live with?
Blocked or runny nose
Loss of smell
Sinus congestion with headaches, especially along the forehead
Watery, itchy, red eyes
Puffy eyes and lower eyelids
Ears popping and occasional hearing impairment
Diminished senses of taste and smell
Itch along the roof of mouth and back of the throat when eating certain foods
Feeling fatigued and/or very lethargic
Seasonal or all the Time
There are two kinds of allergic rhinitis:
1. Seasonal: Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis can occur in spring, summer and early autumn. Triggers include an allergic sensitivity to airborne mould spores (tiny structures produced by moulds for reproduction purposes) or to pollen from grass, trees and weeds.
2. Perennial: People with perennial allergic rhinitis experience symptoms all year-round. It is usually triggered by air pollution, dust, dust mites, pet hair, pet dander (tiny skin flakes), mould or even cockroaches.
Symptoms occur when cells in the lining of the nose, mouth and eyes come into contact with typically harmless substances in the environment. There are ways of limiting your exposure to your triggers such as:
Keeping windows and doors closed
Using air conditioning (for some)
Refraining from being out on the street during rush hour
Drying clothes in a dryer, not outside
Washing bedding once a week on a hot wash
Wearing a face mask when cleaning or dusting
Using an air purifier in your home or office
No doubt you have probably tried all of the above and many more besides. The fact is, it is impossible to completely reduce your chances of coming into contact with your triggers. And you are probably tired, literally from taking antihistamines and or nasal steroids, which leave you drowsy and are not really ideal to be taken long term.
Learning and practising the Buteyko method will allow you to live an allergy-free life. The things that triggered you in the past will not have the same effect when you change the way you breathe.
Buteyko training will do two things for you: With practice, you will be able to breathe less and switch your breathing completely to your nose and diaphragm.
What does your nose do that your mouth doesn’t?
As air travels through your nasal airways it passes through tiny hair-like filtering networks called cilia and mucous secretions. These filter, moisten and warm the air before it reaches the delicate tissues that form your respiratory system. This filtering, warming and moistening is the first step in the conditioning stage of the air you breathe in and your first line of defence against harmful bacteria, viruses and allergens (1). What is also important for allergy sufferers to know is that: Your airways do not like dry cold air they become inflamed and swell up (2) (It is usually then that sufferers reach for nasal steroids). However, the treatment of the air that occurs when you breathe through your nose lessens the chances of this happening.
Your nose is loaded with bitter taste receptors, but they’re not helping you taste or smell lunch. When you breathe in they send a signal to your sinuses to release nitric oxide (3). Nitric oxide (NO) also known as the mighty molecule is very effective at killing off harmful pathogens (4): It is anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal. Nitric oxide has another function in respiratory system: it travels with the air you breathe opening up your airways all the way to your alveoli. This is why it is known as the body’s natural bronchodilator (5).
Mouth breathing is upper chest breathing. Nasal breathing is diaphragmatic breathing. Why does this matter? Put simply; The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle to breathe with. It is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lung which contracts as you inhale and expands as you exhale. Using your diaphragm to breathe allows you to breathe with less effort and stimulates the relaxation response in the parasympathetic nervous system (6). This helps you to achieve the second aim of Buteyko training which is to be calm and breathe less.
When we talk about you breathing less, we mean that you will reduce the volume of air that you will take into and out of your lungs. Simple. Why is a reduction in breathing volume important for people who have allergies and other conditions to look into?
The short answer is that your current breathing pattern may be causing you to lose too much carbon dioxide. We cannot inhale carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; it is a by-product of metabolic chemical reactions which are required to supply the body with energy. While it is true that carbon dioxide can be classed as a waste gas, we only exhale CO2 to get rid of the excess and it is vital that a certain amount is retained in the blood for healthy body function (7). The human lungs require 5% CO2 at a partial pressure of 40 mmHg. The air we breathe in contains just 0.04% at a partial pressure of 0.3mmHg. Over breathing or hyperventilating results in the partial pressure of held CO2 being exhaled or ‘washed’ from our lungs. This deficiency of CO2 is called hypocapnia. Doctor Buteyko’s (whom the method is named after) extensive research led him to the conclusion that many chronic conditions, could be scientifically explained, in large part, as being a consequence of hypocapnia. While it was known at the time that hyperventilation caused hypocapnia, he reasoned that if he could retrain patients who hyperventilate so that their breathing was reduced towards an optimal level, then their condition could reverse.
The Importance of Carbon Dioxide
You already that know that oxygen is vital for life, nothing will work in your body without it. What you may not know, especially if you have forgotten all the lessons that you have learnt on the respiratory system at school, is that for optimal delivery of oxygen you need an optimal amount of carbon dioxide (8). It may seem paradoxical but the more you breathe, the harder it is for oxygen to reach the parts of your body that need it.
A Quick Lesson
When we take a breath of air into our lungs, oxygen passes from the lungs to the blood where it is picked up and carried through the blood vessels by a molecule called haemoglobin. This oxygen-rich blood is then pumped by the heart throughout the body so that oxygen can be offloaded to cells for energy conversion. In order to release oxygen from the blood, however, haemoglobin requires a catalyst which involves an increase in body temperature, along with the presence of carbon dioxide (8). When carbon dioxide levels are less than adequate, the transfer of oxygen from the blood to muscles and organs is limited, leading to poor body oxygenation.
The Bohr Effect
This necessary presence of carbon dioxide was discovered in 1904 by the physiologist and Nobel laureate Christian Bohr, who recognised that CO2 affects the release of oxygen from the blood to tissues and organs. According to the Bohr Effect, when there is sufficient pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood and lungs, pH drops and oxygen is released more readily. Conversely, when carbon dioxide levels are low, haemoglobin molecules are less able to release oxygen from the blood. The way we breathe determines the amount of carbon dioxide present in our blood, and therefore how well our bodies are oxygenated. What is particularly important for people with allergies to know are the other roles that carbon dioxide has in their body: It relaxes the smooth muscles embedded in the airways, arteries and capillaries, enabling smooth breathing and healthy blood flow. It also inhibits the degranulation of mast cells (9) which results in lower histamine production. Think of histamine as being the messenger, which if you suffer from allergies goes into overdrive when triggered by a harmless substance. Chemically, it works in the body by binding with special receptors on protein molecules. When bound to the receptor, a particular effect is produced, such as inflammation or increased mucous production. The allergic reaction a person experiences depends on the amount of histamine released. This varies from individual to individual. One way to control the amount of histamine produced is to take an antihistamine, a better way without all the side effects is to maintain optimal carbon dioxide levels by reducing your breathing.
- Filter out allergens and condition the air that you breathe in before it reaches your lungs
- Sterilise your respiratory system
- Lessen the risk of your airways becoming inflamed
- Open up your airways
- Allow you to calmly breathe using your diaphragm
- Maintain adequate oxygenation of your tissues
- Inhibit the release of histamine
1.O’Meara, T. J.; Sercombe, J. K.; Morgan, G.; Reddel, H. K.; Xuan, W.; Tovey, E. R. (2005). “The reduction of rhinitis symptoms by nasal filters during natural exposure to ragweed and grass pollen”
2. Harvard Medical School Publishing Mouth Breathing Challenges 2019
3. Impact of bitter taste receptor phenotype upon clinical presentation in chronic rhinosinusitis.Division of Rhinology and Sinus Surgery, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC
4.Hou, YC; Janczuk, A; Wang, PG (1999). “Current trends in the development of nitric oxide donors”. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 5 (6): 417–41.
5. Culotta, Elizabeth; Koshland, Daniel E. Jr (1992). “NO news is good news”. Science. 258 (5090): 1862–1864
6. Stress Management and Reduction Journal University of Texas Austin
7. Voet, Donald; Judith G. Voet; Charlotte W. Pratt (2013). Fundamentals of Biochemistry: Life at the Molecular Level (4th ed.). John Wiley & Sons
9.Center for Biomedical & Life Sciences, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO, USA.