The September 2008 issue of The Lancet Medical journal reported a study that showed a link between rhinitis (runny nose in med-speak) and adult-onset asthma. A summary of the journal article is here. What they found by studying various populations in Europe was that adults who suffer from runny noses have an increased risk of getting asthma. The authors of the study concluded, "Rhinitis, even in the absence of atopy, is a powerful predictor of adult-onset asthma." Atopy is a sensitivity to some type of allergen.
This an interesting and not unexpected finding. The Buteyko Breathing method (learn about the Buteyko Breathing method and Professor Konstantin Buteyko) is based on the theory that asthma is caused by overbreathing, or chronic hyperventilation. The theory goes that many people hyperventilate on an ongoing basis (reports have quoted between 5 and 10% of the population show varying signs of hyperventilation). People who are predisposed to getting asthma i.e. they have hypersensitive airways, will in turn respond to this ongoing hyperventilation by developing asthma symptoms. There is a known link between hyperventilation and bronchoconstriction (airway narrowing) - several studies have demonstrated that hyperventilation induces bronchospasm. There have also been studies that show that people with asthma over-breathe. A normal tidal volume (volume of air breathed in one minute) is 3-5 liters per minute. Asthmatics have been shown to breathe anywhere from 10-19 liters of air per minute, and this is not even when they are having an asthma "attack". During an acute asthma episode the volume of air breathed increases even further.
So, there is fairly good evidence to show that asthmatics over-breathe and over-breathing causes airway narrowing. But what on earth does this have to do with runny noses you might ask? Professor Buteyko argued that the airways swell during asthma in order to reduce further carbon dioxide loss (carbon dioxide is blown off when we breathe and over-breathing leads to too much carbon dioxide loss). He described it as a protective mechanism. This theory can be expanded to the nose. Many of us are mouth breathers and mouth breathing encourages hyperventilation as more air can be gulped down by the mouth than through the nose. If you breathe through your mouth, one of the ways your body might respond to the over-breathing this induces is to cause swelling and mucus formation in the nose in order to prevent the loss of more carbon dioxide - your nose blocks so that you cannot lose more carbon dioxide. Unfortunately this also makes it harder to breathe through your nose and so a vicious circle can be set up.
These theories of Buteyko are backed up by some fairly strong studies, but the studies only show a link between reduced breathing and reduced asthma symptoms. They cannot show the mechanism by which this has occurred. So the mechanism I have written about above, courtesy of Professor Buteyko, remains a theory. But it's as good a theory as anything else I have read.
So, rather than wait until your runny nose induces asthma (and obviously this will not occur in everyone), why not fix the runny nose? How? By learning to breathe through your nose and reduce your breathing volume. You probably won't be aware that you are over-breathing and you may not even realise you are a mouth breather, but getting this checked out is easy. Reversing the problem requires a commitment on your part to breathe differently, but it is not difficult, it just requires some focus and time commitment. Learn some new good habits to replace the less healthy ones. Better than asthma drugs, right? Cheaper too. People who already have asthma can reverse it through the same mechanisms. In fact anyone who finds it difficult to breathe through their nose can benefit from learning some strategies for nose clearing, nose breathing and reduced volume breathing. Over-breathing is very common in our society and you may even now be suffering from the symptoms of chronic hyperventilation.
So, where can you go for help? Contact me at Breathingwise Inc (Breathingwise serves Los Angeles and Orange County and nearby areas) or find a Buteyko practitioner in your area.
Legal Disclaimer: Unfortunately, because of the litigious world in which we live, I must remind you that this blog expresses my opinion only. Although my opinion is based on the most up to date, published research I can find, it has still been interpreted by me and remains an opinion, not fact. It takes a very long time for scientific theory to be classified as fact. Theories are 'proven' and 'disproven' for years before consensus is reached. So really, consider everything you read, here or anywhere else, as a theory and as information that may or may not apply to and/or assist you. I suggest you use any information you get here to start a discussion with a knowledgeable, compassionate health professional as to how it relates to your situation. I am not liable for any injury that you suffer supposedly as a result of anything you read here.