Expectations, memories and emotional upset can spur psychosomatic breathing difficulties in some patients. In a recent article in the Scientific American journal it was reported that although, asthma attacks can be scary and painful—some of them may be avoidable if asthma sufferers can alter their expectations. Evidence is mounting that believing an odour or activity will trigger an asthma attack is sometimes all it takes to induce real physical symptoms.
In one recent study, 17 patients with moderate, persistent asthma took whiffs of a nonirritating odourant. For some patients the bottle was labeled “asthmogenic”; for others the label read “therapeutic.” The researchers monitored their rate of exhaled nitric oxide, a marker of airway inflammation. Nitric oxide levels did not change at all among the group who thought the smell was therapeutic, but those who believed it to be asthmogenic had an immediate rise in exhaled nitric oxide that continued to climb. Just after exposure, levels had risen by 36%; two hours later they were 56% higher, and the next day levels were elevated by 65%. “We hope to convince both asthmatics and the physicians who treat them that their beliefs alone can bring about adverse responses,” says co-author Pamela Dalton, a cognitive psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.
The findings suggest that certain activities, odours and images may elicit a stress response that causes physiological symptoms in asthma patients. The researchers hope that doctors and public health associations will tweak their messages to asthma sufferers so that they do not overreact to experiences that may be harmless. In fact in this case but not all, it could just be MIND OVER MATTER.