YOUR HEALTH: Harmonicas are helping patients breathe easier

WACO, Texas – It's not easy for John Moberly and his wife to get around.

She was already sick herself when John started having problems with COPD.  Now, to help his breathing, he uses oxygen.

And a harmonica.

"You're blowing and drawing so you're exercising your muscles, your diaphragm," explained John.

This is "Harmonicas for Health".

The music therapist teaches a class of COPD patients the correct way to breathe to make notes and familiar songs.

COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, affects 10 million people in the United States, and smoking is the leading cause.

Therapists say playing harmonica exercises muscles needed to pull air in and push air out of the lungs.   It also strengthens abdominal muscles for a better cough, helping patients clear the lungs.

Researchers are measuring health benefits over a 12 week period.

"We haven't finished the study yet but we are seeing significant improvement in muscle strength and the six-minute walk test," said Mary Hart, Research Project Manager and Registered Respiratory Therapist at Baylor University Medical Center.

"That's how far they can walk in six minutes."

TREATMENT:   Most people have mild forms of the disease for which little therapy is needed other than smoking cessation.   Even for more advanced stages of disease, effective therapy is available that can control symptoms, reduce your risk of complications and exacerbations, and improve your ability to lead an active life.  Bronchodilators are medications that usually come in an inhaler and relax the muscles around your airways.   Inhaled or oral steroids may be prescribed, or a combination inhaler that combines bronchodilators and inhaled steroids.  (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353685)

Emma Johnson has trouble inhaling and depends on her oxygen tank and her harmonica playing friends.

"I can do this and it helps me. It's enjoyable, put it like that."

"I've met people in this harmonica class that will be friends of mine until the day that I die," said John. "And I love them all."

Where there is no cure for COPD, there is music.

"When you play the harmonica you have to pucker," explained Hart.   "When you COPD one of the ways that you relieve your shortness of breath or calm down when you get panicked and when you can't breathe is to take in a deep breath through your nose and blow out through pursed or puckered lips."

Science suggests there may be better breathing and better health.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.