If you are wheezing all the way to the beach this summer, you will not be alone – asthma affects a staggering three million Britons. One in 20 are adults and up to a quarter of children are sufferers; and the figure is growing.
Dr. David Strachan of St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London says:” There has certainly been a drift upwards in the number of cases in the last 20 to 30 years.”
Anyone can be a victim: “We have not been able to characterise the sort of person likely to suffer from asthma,” he says. “It is not linked to social class or to what part of the country you live in.”
As the incidence of asthma increases, the medical establishment has been at a loss to find an explanation or a cure. Traditionally, inhalers have been used to relieve the symptoms of asthma but now a cure which is designed to rid sufferers of the need of them has arrived in Britain.
The Buteyko Method, devised by Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko, is based on the controversial claim that asthmatics breathe too much and too deeply.
When we breathe, we take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. We need a certain amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs for oxygen to pass effeciently into the blood.
According to the Buteyko theory, hyperventilation, or over-breathing, causes a depletion of carbon dioxide and the body responds to this by constricting the airways, causing asthma.
Christopher Drake, who teaches the Buteyko Method at the Hale Clinic in London, says conventional drugs treat the symptoms, not the cause, of asthma and can make the condition worse.
And he believes that, by following the Buteyko Method, people could stop using the drugs that cost the National Health Service 350 million pounds a year.
“Asthma sufferers are found to have 3 to 5 times the intensity of normal breathing,” he says.
“The courses I run include breath retention exercises to recondition the respiratory centre in the body.
“The asthma improves within a few days and people are rapidly asymptomatic and able to give up their medication.”
But the medical establishment is divided over the effectiveness of the treatment. The National Asthma Campaign says in a statement: “The Campaign has an open mind about any new treatment which may help those with asthma. However, it will only support or recommend a treatment if it has been adaquately researched and the results published for all doctors to see.
“Just because someone says they feel better doesn’t mean the underlying condition has been successfully treated.
“We would strongly advise people with asthma not to pay several hundred pounds to be taught a method of treatment which is of unproven benefit.”
But those who have tried the Buteyko Method are convinced of its benefits.
Dr. John Stanley of the National Public Health Laboratory says: “It changed my life. Before, I could barely walk up the stairs; now, I can manage a 10-mile hike. I was using my puffer four times a day, as well as steroids, and now I’m off all drugs.”