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MedWorld: Feature

Work & Motion
Breathing Tricks with Asthma Patients


By Paul Wheeler

November 5, 1995

By spraying methylcholine into the lungs of asthmatic patients and observing their response, doctors at Johns Hopkins trying to prove a new theory about what makes asthmatics differ from people who don't suffer from this suffocating illness.

The researchers found that asthmatics and non-asthmatics alike have the same response to inhaled irritants. That is, the smooth muscles that line the air passages of the lung contract, presumably protecting the lung tissue from damage. The difference is that non-asthmatics overcome this reaction by using deep breaths to relax the muscles and open up the air passages. Asthmatics lack this ability. What's more, if non-asthmatics refrain from taking the deep breaths, they develop an asthma-like breathing problem. The researchers hope this work will shed some light on the elusive causes of asthma, but until then, they'll be having lots of laboratory fun with their breathing tricks. Next on their agenda: why does breathing helium make you talk like Mickey Mouse?

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