How and why asthma affect the nervous system?
Asthma is a very common condition in the population of the world. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, at least 8.3% of children (6.1 million) and 8.3% of adults (20.4 million) in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma.
The symptoms of asthma are very variable, ranging from mild symptoms that only appear after specific conditions 1 or 2 times a month to severe symptoms that interfere with the person’s daily activities. The most common symptoms during an asthma attack are wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, inability to talk, gasping and difficulty to breath. Likewise, when a person suffers an asthma attack, he/she can feel paralyzed and unable to speak, which can cause high levels of anxiety.
Asthma is a multi-causal disease, which means that there are many factors that influence its appearance. The experts have developed many theories that can explain the physiopathology of this disease.
One of the main theories about asthma physiopathology is the over-reactivity of the immune system to some environmental triggers, such as cold temperatures, exercise, pollen, dust and contamination. This theory says that when those triggers activate the immune system, the airway gets inflamed, which produces an excessive amount of mucus that closes the bronchi and bronchioles (the structures that allow air reaching the lungs) which, in turn, induces the airway’s muscles contraction.
Finally certain genes and immunoglobulins related to allergies have been studied and found in people with severe asthma attacks, which increases the credibility of this theory.
However, during the last decades, the experts have suggested a new theory which demonstrates that an asthma attack isn’t only due to an overactive
immune system. This theory suggests that the nervous system is also very important in the airway muscles contraction and the bronchi hyperreactivity.
The experts say that there are a sensitive group of neurons which connect the brain and the lungs, so any injury or abnormality in these nerves (especially the vagus nerve irritation) can stimuli the bronchial hyperreactivity. These nerves not only control the airway muscles but the chest muscles, which intervene in the inspiration and expiration movements.
To date, the details of this theory are not completely clear. This is because the vagus nerve is formed by many types of cells intertwined, so the experts have not deciphered yet which of them is more involved in asthma physiopathology.
In a clinical trial that is being carried out at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the researchers have found a receptor called transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1), which can worsen the immune system hyperreactivity and asthma symptoms.
The researchers participating in this study have also found a molecule called sphingosine-1-phosphate, which is known to be released only by the immune cells in the lungs of asthmatics. Knowing this is very important because the release of this substance is stimulated by the nervous system, which represents the point of union between the immune system and the neurons.
However, this mechanism is not so simple and it’s still being studied. It is also very important to say that this clinical trial has been performed on animals, so the presence of this mechanism in humans still needs to be proved.
On the other hand, the experts also say that nervous system affects asthma because it controls all the human’s body functions. In other terms, all the messages and impulses must be transmitted, to a greater or lesser extent, by the nervous system.
In fact, the nervous system includes the main breathing center, specifically in the medulla oblongata. This structure sends the nerve impulses to the respiratory muscles, causing them to expand or contract. Likewise, this structure sends the nerve impulses which control the tone of the bronchial tubes.
Likewise, the nerves that communicate the respiratory system and brain run from the chest organs to the central nervous system through the neck, so any injury or misalignment in the neck structures will alter the nervous signals between these two systems (respiratory and nervous).
For example, a spine misalignment (including a vertebral subluxation or a vertebral disc disease) can lead to sending improper signals to and from the brain and body, including the airway and lungs.
Through these new theories, the experts have been able to explain how the nervous system affect asthma, orienting the new treatments of this disease to repairing the nervous system function.
Although many people can control their asthma symptoms with traditional inhalers and medication, others may need other types of treatments, including chiropractic treatments.
At this point, it is possible to understand the basis of asthma chiropractic treatment, which is supported by the theory of spine misalignment. The chiropractors say that helping the bones to move back into its natural place (without the use of force) and therefore decompressing the nerves, will allow a proper communication between the brain, the airways and the lungs, which can help to relieve the asthma symptoms.
Many researchers have demonstrated with their studies that most patients (both children and adults) who have undergone an asthma chiropractic treatment have experienced an important improvement in their symptoms. In other terms, the experts say that chiropractic manipulation helps to eliminate the blockage of the nerve impulses which travel from the brain to the airway and lungs.
Chiropractors also say that this kind of treatment can benefit people in whom the asthma is present due to musculoskeletal problems in both the chest and spine. This is because by improving the muscular function, the thorax is able to expand and contract as it should, so the lungs obtain a proper amount of oxygen.
Asthma chiropractic treatment can also help the patient to learn different ways to reduce their exposure to asthma-inducing triggers through proper changes in their life-style. So, it is considered an excellent and non-invasive option for those people who don’t obtain a proper symptom relieve with traditional treatments and whose daily activities are really limited by the asthma attacks.