When I was a kid and my asthma struck I’d often open my window, set my elbows on the window sill, my face up to the screen, and inhale the cool, fresh air. This seemed to give me some relief in my efforts to gain control of my breathing.
One hot summer my mom gave me a fan, and I refused to give her that fan back even when summer was over. By the time I was 16 I had a fan running in my room round the clock, even during the winter. (I still do this to this day.)
I also kept my window open a crack, even during the winter. My mom didn’t like me doing this, so I’d wait until she was asleep, shut my door, and crack the window ever so slightly.
Dr. Henry Hyde Salter was a fellow asthmatic and asthma doctor from the mid 19th century who made a similar observation. So I’m not alone in making this observation.
When I started as an RT in 1995 I observed that most of my chronic lung patients – those with COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, etc. – insisted on having a fan, and either the air conditioner on or the window open.
I think that a doctor can easily diagnose a lung disease just by entering the patients room. The air is generally cool and breezy. Usually the first thing a lunger requests upon being admitted is a fan.
It’s to the point that as soon as I meet a lunger I ask them if they want a fan. “yeah,” many say, “I always have one on at home.” Or perhaps I do this out of pure empathy, because I’ve been there and done that.
I have a coworker with asthma, and she told me she does the same. She said she’s to the point she can’t sleep unless a fan is on and the room is cool.
So while I once thought I was alone in liking it cool and breezy in my room, I soon realized I was one of many.
Modern asthma researchers must have likewise observed this, as Angela T. Lorenzo explained in her February, 2011, article “Relieving Terminal Dyspnea: Oxygen or Air,” published in RT magazine.
She described a study performed in 1993 by Bruera et al and published in the Lancet that compared giving oxygen at 2l pm continuously to some patients and air to others to see if one or the other did anything to relieve air hunger( a.ka. dyspnea, short of breath).
Without knowing which patients were given what, all the patients observed that their dyspnea had improved regardless of whether or not they were given air or oxygen. In fact, patients in both groups noted an 87 percent improvement in perceived dyspnea after three days.
This study is significant because while the patients in the study noted dyspnea, none was hypoxemic (that means their oxygen level in their blood was normal). Experts surmise from this what we have previously suspected, that a breeze reduces the feeling of dyspnea.
There was another article that made the link, although I can’t remember who wrote it and in what magazine, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Yet the author mentioned how researchers discovered receptors on your face that are responsive to a breeze. When the wind hits these receptors your lungs dilate ever so slightly.
So there might be some science behind our discovery that a breeze relieves air hunger.
A breeze can be accomplished by:
- A fan blowing cool air
- A breeze from an open window (although this increases the risk of inhaling air pollutants such as pollen and car exhaust)
- Gas flow in the nasal passages (air or oxygen)
While there isn’t much science to prove it, I can personally attest that a simple breeze can help asthmatics – at least a little.
What do you think? Do you use a breeze as a remedy for your asthma?
A Registered Respiratory Therapist and asthmatic