Asthma
 
17 million sufferers across the United States.  13 billion dollars spent per year.  10 million missed days of school per year.  More hospitalizations than any other childhood condition.
 
These are the statistics that describe asthma, a relatively simple condition that affects so many.  Asthma, put simply,  is a combination of airway obstruction in the lungs and a hypersensitivity of the muscles that line the airways.  It can happen at various ages, but it has garnered more attention in recent years because of the sharp rise of its diagnosis in children.  Since 1980, the prevalence of asthma in kids has risen sharply to the point that, now, about one out of every four kids is diagnosed. 
 
Most research that has been conducted on the condition, from a medical standpoint, has focused on the environmental and genetic risk factors.  While the environmental factors should certainly merit some consideration since smoking and other environmental pollutants remain at an all-time high, the genetic argument is completely without basis.  There is no evidence to suggest a genetic cause.
 
More recent research points to a nervous system-based cause (anyone else noticing a trend, here?)
 
One of the key components of asthma that cannot be ignored is the hypersensitivity of the muscles in the airways.  This is where the nerve system argument cannot be ignored and really plays the most prominent role.  To understand that, we must re-visit a simple lesson in how the body works...in particular, the lungs.  The lungs are designed to take in a certain amount of air.  Everyone knows that.  How they do so is not so well understood.  The lungs first send a signal to the brain that they need air.  The brain then sends signals to the respiratory system, which consists (put in general terms) of the mouth, nose, throat, and finally the lungs.  The all important brainstem is responsible for regulating the air taken into the lungs.  It even has a specific respiratory center where all those messages from the brain have to go before being routed onward throughout the respiratory system.  Back to the muscles that line the airways...the brainstem regulates breathing by routing messages from the brain that tell those muscles to contract and relax.  Breathing in occurs when they contract.  Breathing out occurs when they relax.  Those muscles only do what they are told to do by the brain sending instructions through the brainstem and nerves. 
 
So, I want to tell you a story.  I was driving to Raleigh a few days ago to celebrate the birthdays of two good friends.  When I got there, I stopped to get gas.  As I was paying for my gas, an angry customer walked in and started berating the employees because the pump he was using was not working.  It was actually kind of scary.  Here's what likely happened...this guy was driving for several hours.  He was tired, he was hungry, and he was ready to get where he was going.  Then, he pulls up to this gas station, in hopes of spending about 3-minutes there before heading back to the road to conclude his lengthy trip.  It would just so happen that he'd pull up to the one faulty pump.  Oh, the guy was certainly not in the mood for that.  He wanted to spend as little time as possible at the gas station and now he's been inconvenienced enough to have to move his car to another pump.  Rather than just do so, he becomes so darned irritated at his plight that he walks in and starts literally yelling at the employees.  He basically has a verbal spasm and unleashes the wrath of hours and hours of irritation from an empty stomach, little sleep, 12-hours in the car, and now a faulty gas pump that puts him behind schedule. 
 
We've all been in the same boat as this guy at one point in our lives.  Maybe we didn't handle it the same way, but we've been there.  In my youth, I berated a poor telecommunicator at Time Warner for the guy who was supposed to set-up my cable missing his appointment to do so THREE times.  I just got so irritated that I spazzed out (I lost it).
 
Traffic, waiting in line, screaming babies on an airplane, your noisy neighbors....odds are there is something that has irritated you to the point that you, too, spazzed...
 
So, your body wants to tell you a story.  Your brain was driving a bunch of messages to the respiratory system.  When those messages got to their destinations, you breathed in and out without having to think about it.  The brain pretty much put that process on repeat.  Then one day, the muscles lining the airways of the respiratory system just went crazy.  You, in turn, could not seem to catch your breath.  It was actually kind of scary, wasn't it?  Here's what likely happened...the brainstem was taking all of these messages from the brain and sending them along all of these nerves to the body.  It wasn't tired, it was just doing what it was supposed to do.  But then something happened, and the top vertebra in the spine clamped down on the brainstem.  It continued to clamp down on the brainstem for quite a while.  In fact, nothing was relieving this pressure on the brainstem.  So, the brainstem became more and more irritated.  Oh, it certainly is never in the mood to be squeezed and choked...it was has work to do!  Since it can't just remove that pressure on its own, it just keeps getting more irritated, to the point that now the nerves to the respiratory system, specifically those muscles that line the airways (and make breathing happen) get super irritated, too.  Those muscles become hypersensitive because, frankly, they are just so darned irritated.  Finally, the muscles "snap" and go into spasm, unleashing a furious couple of minutes on you as you struggle to figure out what is going on and catch your breath.
 
The lesson to be learned is that when the top bone in the spine misaligns and stresses the brainstem, it can irritate the respiratory system and cause the muscles that line the airways to spasm.  That, in a nutshell, is all that asthma truly is.  Obstruction plays a part, yes, but the same lung obstructions in the environment are there for me to inhale as they are for people with asthma to inhale.  I don't have asthma.  My good friend's little boy doesn't have asthma.  My future wife doesn't have asthma.  None of us have that underlying irritation to the brainstem and the nerves that originate from it.  If you remove that stress on the brainstem, then the irritation is gone.  And if the irritation is gone, the condition known as asthma will be gone with it. 
 
Now, for you smokers out there...you are not only contributing to the obstruction of your own respiratory system, but to mine...to your family's...to your friends and their children's...to your pet's...to your wife's or to your husband's...(Doctor's note- I'll have more for you later)