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Respiratory Health

Richard A. Feely, D.O., FAAO, FCA, FAAMA

Viruses capable of causing a cold are present in our everyday environments. The cold that may result from contact with a virus presents an opportunity for the developing immune system of an infant or young child to gain strength. In this way, the common cold should not be viewed as an enemy, but rather as a training ground for the maturation of our immune system.

It is the complications of the common cold-pneumonia-which are the enemy. And, it is in the prevention of these complications where osteopathic manipulative treatment can be of profound benefit. Osteopathic manipulation strives to improve body function through correcting body structure. In relation to respiratory health, the proper function of several body systems is vital.

The common cold taxes the lymphatic drainage in the neck and thorax causing enlargement of the lymph glands and congestion in the muscles. The lymphatic system can no longer adequately carry away the excess tissue fluids associated with the infection.

Muscle spasm and asymmetry can also cause displacement of the spinal segments of the neck or upper back. This further impairs drainage and causes trouble to the delicate balance of the nerve responsible for the thickness of respiratory secretions. Osteopathic manipulative treatment will address these underlying structural disturbances and allow the lymphatic and circulatory systems to enhance the immune system function of the body. The cold can therefore resolve without the complications which make parents dread the onset of this common respiratory illness. Children who have the benefit of osteopathic treatment suffer fewer respiratory illnesses and recover from them with less likelihood of complications.

Allergies & Asthma

Some children suffer from respiratory allergies and some from asthma, but for many children these two are an almost inseparable combination. The respiratory tract is the most frequent site for allergic symptoms in children.

If a child suffers seasonally from watery nose, itchy eyes and sneezing, the cause is usually pollens. If symptoms are year round, dust, mold, spores, animal dander or certain foods are more likely culprits.

Asthma is characterized by swelling and increased secretions of the bronchial mucous membranes and by spasm of the muscles of the bronchial tubes. The wheezing and difficulty breathing may be precipitated by allergens or irritants such as smoke. For some children, a common cold sets off an asthmatic attack; for others, exercise, an emotional upset or (due to a complex body reaction) a bad fall on the tailbone. With such a variety of possible causes, what is the role of osteopathic manipulation?

While medications available to treat allergies and asthma generally work by suppressing symptoms, osteopathic manipulation addresses underlying disturbances in the body's structural components. Manipulation to ensure free motion in the rib cage and diaphragm will enhance immune system function by optimizing lymphatic drainage and circulation. The cleaning functions of the venous and lymphatic systems are vital to the removal of the toxic by-products of infection. Improvement in circulation enhances the ability of the arteries to supply nutrients, antibodies, white blood cells and oxygen to all tissues.

Osteopathic manipulative procedures can stimulate the body to release greater quantities of the substances that cause the dilation of the bronchioles. This reduces the need for medications aimed at producing the same result. The benefits of osteopathic treatment vary from one child to another. One might have fewer respiratory infections and therefore fewer asthmatic attacks, while another might require less medication or have fewer hospitalizations. Most children experience improvement in some aspect of their allergies or asthma therapy, improving the quality of life for both child and family.

Parents Can Help

When children are young, parents are responsible for attending to their health concerns. Many of the factors that promote good general health are equally important in respiratory health, a nutritious diet, adequate rest and warmth and seeking medical attention at appropriate times. Parents can also learn osteopathic techniques to promote better lymphatic drainage through a respiratory illness.

Good nutrition is vital to good respiratory health. A wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as a good supply of Vitamins A, B and C, are essential. Adequate clear fluids, in the form of water, juice or teas will make respiratory secretions thinner and easier for the body to carry away. Avoid foods to which a given child is allergic and withdraw dairy products when mucous is present.

When respiratory allergies or asthma are a problem, parents should do whatever is possible to minimize exposure to the offending agents. You may need to find new homes for pets, vacuum with a sealed system, or wrap mattresses for dust protection.

The common cold and its complications are less frequent problems if care is taken to avoid chilling. Lower temperatures cause constriction of the small blood vessels supplying the mucous membranes of the respiratory tree. This lowers resistance to infection and harms the ability of the inflamed membrane to heal itself. Chilling also causes neck muscles to tighten, yielding a disturbance in the nerve supply. The resultant dryness of the mucous membrane is yet one more factor in lowering resistance. So keep your children warm both to prevent respiratory illness and to help them heal from it.


If fever is associated with an upper respiratory infection, it is usually low grade and more helpful than harmful. The viruses responsible for cold symptoms are weak organisms which a low grade fever helps to kill. The healthy cells of our own bodies are much stronger and are not damaged by a low grade fever. To lower a fever by medication or tepid bathing results in chilling and weakens body resistance.

It is important to increase fluid intake, either by more frequent nursing or bottles or cups containing clear liquids. Dehydration can be a problem if the fever persists and fluid intake is not adequate. High fevers suggest a more serious illness and should be evaluated by a qualified medical practitioner.

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