Using the Power of the Mind to Treat Asthma

  • Harnessing the mind's response to the power of suggestion could provide new and more beneficial treatments for asthma.  Many asthmatics are hypervigilant at controlling for their triggers.  It has been theorized that the fear associated with coming into contact with triggers could actually play a role in the asthma attacks themselves.  The power of other suggestions could play a role in asthma pathology as well, both for good or bad.

    Research done by Pamela Dalton, senior scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia studied the effect that suggestions played in both normal and healthy populations (1).  In the healthy group, those without asthma, the subjects were divided into two groups and exposed to the same scent.  The first group was told it was a chemical and the second group was told it was a rain forest plant.  Participants who though they were smelling a chemical were most likely to report feeling sick.  Those who thought they were smelling a rain forest plant reported feeling relaxed.

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    To further study how this effect would present itself with asthmatic subjects Dalton performed another study.  All of the participants had asthma this time.  Half were told what they were smelling could trigger an asthma attack while the other half were told that the scent could help them to breathe better.  Again, the group that was told the scent was bad for them reported more symptoms.  However, not only did that group report more symptoms but those symptoms were able to be measured in physiological testing such as measuring airway constriction.  The group that was told the scent would help them breathe did not show symptoms and most reported that they liked the scent.

    What this means for treating asthma in the future is multifaceted.  Some scientists have suggested that a scent could be associated with a rescue inhaler, theorizing that after a while the scent alone could help ease asthma symptoms.  While this may seem silly to some it is very important to reduce our reliance on inhalers because they have the potential to become less and less effective for the patient as they are used over time.  Another tool that could be used is to teach asthmatic patients relaxation techniques to help them take control of a situation where triggers are present.  Much like cancer patients who are told to visualize their immune system fighting the cancer, these techniques could help asthmatics prevent attacks.

    The mind is a very powerful thing so finding a way to use it against these horrible asthma symptoms is a new and exciting idea in the fight to breathe freely.  Just because this preliminary research suggests that the power of suggestion is powerful in asthmatics does not mean that medications aren't or won't be needed.  This research should be used in conjunction with pharmaceutical medications to create the best quality of life for every person with asthma. 


    Do not stop or reduce any medication without consulting your physician or pulmonologist.

Published On: November 30, 2014