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Colorado Researchers Hope 'Biofeedback' Can Control Asthma

DENVER (CBS4) - Can patients be trained to control their asthma? That's what researchers are studying at National Jewish Health in Denver.

More than 20 million people in the U.S. live with asthma. The hope is "biofeedback" will mean fewer medications.

CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh sat in on a recent training session.

"Any alternative to medication would be welcome to asthma patients," Walsh said. "This one is already showing promise."

With sensors on each wrist to take his pulse and one monitoring his diaphragm, Kyle Laubenstein was all hooked up and ready to breathe.

"As you breathe in, feel your belly gently expanding. As you breathe out, feel it gently collapsing again," a nurse told Laubenstein.

Laubenstein followed the instructions with his eyes on a screen, pacing him so he breathed easily and comfortably. That's not always the case with Laubenstein because he struggles with asthma.

"Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath after a vigorous exercise," Laubenstein said.

Laubenstein has medication called albuterol to open his airways, but he'd like to do without it. That's why he signed up to try biofeedback, controlling his heart rate.

Once a week Laubenstein goes to National Jewish Health to practice, and he practices at home.

"It's somewhat like learning to ride your bike. Once you have it down you can keep doing it," Dr. Fred Wamboldt said.

Wamboldt is leading the study evaluating biofeedback and how controlling heart rate or certain brain waves impacts the lungs.

"The techniques we're using here we know work for a variety of conditions, and what we want to see is, do they work for asthma?" Wamboldt said.

Laubenstein is sold.

"It seems to be working very well. I haven't had to use the albuterol for about a month and a half, 2 months," Laubenstein said.

Researchers see great potential. They're hoping asthma sufferers can eventually depend on biofeedback to breathe.

National Jewish needs study participants -- non-smoking adults with persistent asthma who have not taken inhaled steroid medication in the last 30 days. Participants have to commit to weekly visits over 4 months. They will be reimbursed for their time. Visit the National Jewish Health website for more information.

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