For people with asthma,  speaking  for long periods  of time can  trigger   symptoms.   Frequently   at  workshops   people remark: ‘my coughing really starts  at a meeting,  or when  I speak for long periods.’ There is a direct relationship between a person’s asthma  problems  and the amount  of time  spent talking, therefore this may help to explain why teachers make up the single largest professional group attending  our work- shops.

In a classroom environment, particularly if it’s overheated or stuffy, recurrent  chest  infections  and  exacerbation  of an asthma condition are common  complaints. Indeed classrooms can contribute to the spread of colds and flu and it is likely that teachers  are  particularly susceptible due  to  the  amount   of talking  they  routinely  do: excessive talking  can weaken  the immune  system from excessive loss of carbon dioxide.


Here are some suggestions  which may help in addressing this problem:

1) Be aware of the need to minimise  the amount  of talking you  do. Teachers  or  lecturers  can  use  other  means  of communication such as video, tapes, CDs or even internet sourced  items.  Students  could  be  encouraged   to  con- tribute  more  by reading  or discussions. This can also be an effective way to generate interest and debate.


2) Try not to take a deep breath in through your mouth prior to talking. This will be difficult  initially as because  you concentrate  on what you are going to say, so trying to pay attention to  your  breathing  at  the  same  time  will not come  easily or  naturally.  Practice  talking  in  front of  a mirror  for a few minutes  each day, saying anything  you like  (the  alphabet  for  example).  If  you  are  unable  to breathe  through  your nose prior to every sentence,  then start with just your first sentence  and get that right. Then try for two sentences, then three and so on.


3) Newsreaders  use a particular style to add drama to their stories and many people unconsciously try to adopt this approach.  This involves  taking  large  breaths  prior  to long  sentences   in  higher  pitched  tones.  Many  of  the more severe hyperventilators  I have met fit this pattern. Their  sentences   are  unusually  long  and  interspersed with  deep  upper  chest  breathing.  The  aim  is to  relax your  speech,  slow it  down  and  reduce  the  emotional intensity of it.


4) Long  sentences   result  in  a  large  exhalation  of  carbon dioxide, so aim to shorten  your sentences. This will add a sense  of calm to what you are saying, and  you will be more easily understood. Natural mid-sentence pauses are good.


5) An asthma sufferer can be easily identified  in a telephone conversation because they inhale noisily, deeply and often with a wheeze, through the mouth  before speaking. Aim to  ensure   that  your  breathing   is  quiet  while  you  are talking because noisy breathing is indicative of over- breathing.  Adopting nasal breathing  and becoming  more aware of your breathing during talking will help to reduce hyperventilation.


6) Observe how other people breathe while they speak. This will help you with your own breathing  techniques.  Look out  for  sharp inhalations of  air  and  movement   of  the upper chest while others talk.


As you become more competent  and relaxed at breathing through  your nose while you speak, try talking at the end of an exhalation rather than  directly after an inhalation. This will further  conserve carbon dioxide during  speech. For example:


Gently breathe in

Gently <………………> breathe <………………> out


Towards the end of your gentle out-breath, start talking. After the first comma in your sentence, take a gentle breath in and let a gentle breath out. Start talking again.


Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter has been described as the best medicine  for many ills, but you must learn to control your breathing  during  it. Constant laughter involves deep inhalations  and exhalations causing a loss of carbon dioxide. A number  of experts have recognised  the  role  of laughter  in  contributing to asthma symptoms.1,2

During laughter, try to:

  • Reduce fits of laughter.
  • Laugh with your mouth closed.
  • Breathe in only through your nose.
  • Hold your breath afterwards for a few seconds to replenish any loss of carbon dioxide.

Sometimes you just have to give way to a fit of laughter; you can’t help it. But do help yourself to get your breath back by reducing your breathing.


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