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What is asthma?

Asthma is a common and sometimes debilitating respiratory disorder which can affect people of all ages. About one in ten Australians suffer from asthma at some time during their lives. 

Sufferers may occasionally experience difficulty in breathing, accompanied by a wheeze and a tight, restricted chest. Other symptoms may include coughing, vomiting and shaking.

What is the difference between allergic and non-allergic asthma?

There are two different types of asthma: allergic and non-allergic. In allergic asthma, symptoms are usually the result of inhaling or consuming some kind of external substance such as pollen, dust mites, mould, wheat or dairy produce.

Non-allergic asthma can be triggered by a range of different factors, including fatigue, physical exertion, some medications, stress or exposure to environments which are cold and damp. 

What happens to the body during an asthma attack?

Asthma is basically a breathing problem resulting from increased sensitivity of the airways which is provoked by a range of stimuli or 'triggers'. The bronchial spasm, or narrowing of the airways, is recurrent and reversible.

When an asthma attack starts, the muscle layer within the airway wall contracts and the lining of the airway swells, causing the airways to narrow and mucous to be secreted into the airway. As a result, it is more difficult for air to flow in and out of the lungs and breathing becomes difficult. The 'wheezing' sound of asthma is caused by the noise of air passing through the narrow, swollen airways. In very severe cases, so little air is being moved in and out that almost no sound is audible.

In addition, an irritating cough is often present. Sometimes a small amount of thick, stringy phlegm (mucous) is produced. If the attack is severe, the airways become very narrow and the diaphragm, which is the main breathing muscle, has to call on the rib, neck and abdominal muscles to help. This results in more energy being used and causes severe breathlessness and can lead to exhaustion.

As with many conditions, asthmatics react differently to attacks. Some may become very quiet or subdued as they concentrate on their breathing, while others may be obviously distressed and breathless, with a pronounced wheeze.

How can osteopathy help someone with asthma?

Osteopathy offers assistance to sufferers by working on all aspects of the breathing mechanism, including the:

  • ribs
  • spine
  • diaphragm and other muscles of breathing
  • nerve control of the chest
  • blood and fluid supply to the bronchii and lungs

Osteopathy can also play an important preventative role in the care of someone who is suffering from asthma.

Does osteopathy replace conventional medical treatment?

No. Osteopaths recognise the important role of anti-inflammatory medication, antibiotics and bronchiodilators in the treatment of asthma, especially in acute attacks.

Osteopaths work in conjunction with other health care professionals with the long-term aim of decreasing the patient's dependence on their medication. Osteopaths recognise that the functions of the human body are inherently linked and can effect each other.

With this in mind, the osteopath gently works with the body's structure, to enhance and improve the mechanics of breathing by:

  • freeing restrictions of the chest and ribs
  • relaxing the respiratory muscles
  • improving lymphatic drainage from the lungs and airways
  • enhancing the blood supply to the chest region

Other areas of management include the formulation of an individual exercise program, with emphasis on breathing exercises and the avoidance of aggravating factors. The osteopath also provides advice on diet, posture, lifestyle and first aid measures during an attack.

Why is osteopathy so special?

The wholistic approach of osteopathy encompasses all functions and influences including the body, emotions, mind and spirit.

Before any treatment is begun, an osteopath always conducts a full examination, using conventional medical tests where necessary. During the consultation the osteopath will talk with the patient and collate a full case history, taking note of previous accidents, illnesses, operations, dental work and any other factors which may contribute to reduced health.

During physical examination, the osteopath uses sensitive palpatory skills, to gently identify where a patient's structure has been disturbed. As part of this process, the osteopath will assess whether osteopathic treatment is the best option, or whether the patient should be referred to another practitioner. Sometimes a combination of osteopathy and other treatment may be recommended. Osteopathy can also assist in the prevention of health problems, helping people of all ages to achieve an ultimate level of health and wellbeing.

What kind of treatment does an osteopath provide?

Osteopathic treatment involves manual techniques including soft tissue stretching and massage, along with articulation and mobilisation of the joints. The treatment is gentle and conducted with the patient's assistance.

This type of treatment is designed to improve blood circulation, lymphatic drainage and general fluid flow throughout the body, while helping to alleviate disruptive influences on the nervous system and improving overall body mobility.



Courtesy of the AOA