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Biofeedback for Asthma

Asthmatic children may get a worse asthma attack because of anxiety reinforcement. Asthma treatment is much more effective if we can reduce the child's anxiety. Biofeedback usually is effective.

Biofeedback is a system whereby information is fed back to the individual to tell him when he is doing it right. For example, a pulse monitor on an exercise bike tells you when your pulse is too high or low. Science has shown that when the muscles of the body, especially the facial muscles are relaxed, a person cannot feel anxiety. Remember lying on the beach on a warm day feeling relaxed? You felt no anxiety when your muscles were relaxed.

In medicine we have delicate sensors that can tell us exactly how much electricity each muscle is making - the more muscle contraction the more electricity - or how little. So when the sensors are placed on the jaw muscles and the person learns to put out very little electricity or muscle spasm, then he learns how to relax his jaw. He learns this by viewing a meter that tells him the electrical output of the muscles.

Anxiety reinforcement makes any symptom or problem worse. The more your eye itches, the more you rub it, the more anxious you get , the more it itches, the more you rub, the more the anxiety, etc. and so the eye gets worse because of anxiety reinforcement. Yes ,the dentist makes your tooth sore, but if you can relax and not have anxiety reinforcement, the dental visit will be much more comfortable. Nearly every symptom - tinnitus, headache, backache, etc. is made worse by anxiety. In asthma, especially with children, this anxiety makes the attack much much worse. A simple technique can reduce this factor.

Asthma Biofeedback Technique

Have the child stand before the mirror, chest exposed. Have him breathe in at count of 4 and out at count of 6. The exhalation is longer because inhalation is a contraction of the muscles mode - more muscle electricity - and exhalation is a relaxation mode (less muscle electricity). Tell the child to look at the mirror and SEE the jaw relax, the shoulders relax, the entire face relax, the chest muscles relax on exhalation.

Ideally the jaw relaxes and sags, as when you fall asleep on the couch. The entire face relaxes. The body tends to lean forward. By looking in the mirror one can see if one is doing it right. By making the exhalation longer than the inhalation, one is in a relaxation mode for a longer period of time. By practicing this 10 minutes every day, when the next asthma attack comes, the child is ready. If Judy can keep practicing what she learned doing the mirror biofeedback, and then repeat the exercise at the onset of the attack, then the attack will be significantly reduced in severity and hopefully in frequency.

Any relaxation method that works can be supplemented here - tapes on progressive relaxation, for example, may be good for specific children. The reason this method has been so successful is that they SEE when they do it right and they can objectify their correct response. Just telling someone to relax is not as good as practicing the right muscle action. The average 7 year old learns this well in about 10 sessions. All the sessions can be done at home with the parents supervision.

© 2003 Dr. Murray Grossan

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Last Update 2003 October 1
Murray Grossan M.D.