There are various forms of and causes for this disturbing problem, one of these causes, giving rise to a comparatively simple form, is cramp of the ring-muscle of the windpipe so contracting the windpipe that breathing is rendered difficult. A "wheeze" is heard in breathing, though there is no bronchitis or lung trouble present. The cause of this cramp is an irritation of the ring-muscle's nerve. It can be relieved by pressing cold cloths gently along the spine, from the back of the head to between the shoulders, taking care that the patient remains generally warm during the treatment, and attending to the feet and skin as directed below in this article.
Sometimes the cause seems to lie in the air of the place where the sufferer resides. A change either to high ground or the seaside will often completely remove asthma, especially in the young. In any such case a trial should be made of several places, if that be at all possible, and that place fixed upon where the asthma is least felt.
Another cause of asthma is lack of power in the breathing muscles. In such a case the patient clings to a particular attitude, in which alone he can breathe. This is in most cases due to a lack of vitality in the root nerves which supply the breathing muscles.
An attack of this may often be relieved by rubbing, with the points of the fingers chiefly, gently yet firmly up and down each side of the spine, close to the bone. Even rubbing above the clothing will frequently relate. The roots of the nerves supplying power to the breathing muscles lie just on each side of the spine, and this kind of rubbing stimulates these roots. It is not rubbing of skin or backbone which is wanted, but such gentle treatment of the nerve roots on either side of the bone as makes them glow with genial warmth. This rubbing is of course better done on the surface of the skin. See that the patient is warm, then dip the fingers in cold water, and rub as directed. When the water cools too much, or the patient tires of it, use fresh olive oil, warm if necessary. In such cases avoid all brandy, rum, and alcoholic drinks which simply rob the nerves of the very power you need for cure, Temporary relief may be given by such drinks, but it is at the expense of reduced life and reduced chances of cure.
A tablespoonful of hot water every five minutes is the best curative drink. It may be given for several hours if required. To give this rubbing treatment and drinking hot water fair play, however, attention must be paid most carefully to the feet and skin of the patient, The feet frequently are cold, and in bad cases swell, the skin at and above the swelling being pale and soft, In minor cases this state of the feet may be valued by rubbing with hot olive oil. In serious cases rubbing is to be alternated with bathing the feet in hot water, until the feet and limb glow with heat. This may be done two or three times a day, for half an hour, or even an hour. It increases very greatly the vital power of breathing.
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