Our autonomic nervous system can alert every cell in our bodies in times of stress, however ‘sounding the alarm’ can sometimes result in shortness of breath or anxiety and such symptoms. The autonomic nervous system receives information about the body and its external environment, and then responds by stimulating body processes through its two main divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve pathways.
Balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic states is vital to overall health and well-being. An imbalance or dominance of one state over the other can divert vital resources away from their most efficient and optimal utilizations.
Imbalance or disruption to a healthy lifestyle, diet and even negative thinking can trigger the sympathetic stress response and prime the body for action through an intimate association with the adrenal glands. This known as the sympathoadrenal system. Within the brain, reception of a stress signal leads increased activity of the sympathoadrenal system. This is done through a complex internal signal cascade that releases a number of neurotransmitters.
A neurotransmitter called acetylcholine causes excitation of the nerves that signal to our skeletal muscles, along with the muscles surrounding certain bodily systems such as the cardiovascular system and respiratory system. This is what can cause increases in strength and speed during times of stress, as well as accelerating our heart rate and breathing.
The sympathetic nervous system response is protective on the scale of seconds to minutes to hours, but chronic levels of increased sympathetic stress on the scale of hours to days may actually interfere with the body’s allocation of energy, resources, and immune reserves to sustain an efficient host defense in the long term.
But it does not stop there; stress disrupts deep sleep by heightening our awareness to external stimuli, which in term suppresses the release of growth hormone and immune modulators. Growth hormone is released during deep stage-3 sleep, and it has been shown that any source of sleep disruption can impair the release of growth hormone, which is important not only for growth and healing, but also for immunoregulation and adaptive immunity.
Moreover, chronic stress may predispose one to mouth breathing (an attempt to keep up with increased respiratory demands) and negatively impact the body’s innate nasal immunity defense mechanism against infectious microbes.
The human immune system has two arms: Innate immunity, and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is the body’s first line of defense and includes mechanisms that activate immediately or within hours of detecting an unwelcome microbe or antigen in the body.
The adaptive immune response is a secondary response, and is more complex. The microbiological invader first must be processed and recognized. Once the enemy has been recognized, the adaptive immune system creates an army of immune cells specifically designed to attack that antigen specifically.
Coronavirus enters the body and infects alveolar epithelial cells of the upper respiratory tract. Once the virus has penetrated the cell it invades the cells’ biology machinery to replicate new viral particles. In that process, the virus constantly evolves to evade the adaptive immune response, until either the virus or the immune system dominates the fight. The viral particles are potent inducers of inflammatory cytokines
The best way to prevent the infection is to limit direct transmission through taking social distancing measures, committing to vigilant and thorough hand-washing, and to avoid touching the mucosal surfaces of the face (eyes, nose, and mouth) as much as possible.
If the virus does somehow find its way into the body, the primary line of defense will be the innate immune response of the sinonasal tract. The innate immunity of the nose is our first line of defense against pathogens, but our immune-system will never get the chance to say “shields up” and fight for us, if those pathogens are invited directly into our lungs through the oral breathing route.
Chronic mouth breathing bypasses the well armed nasal defenses, and as a result our inflammatory and immune pathways must attempt to fight the virus and infection in a much more delicate territory (our lungs). Mouth breathing also drops the temperature in the sinonasal cavity, which further impairs nasal mucociliary function, and can cause the stagnation of mucous, which further impairs nasal breathing and nasal immunity.
So, besides washing our hands what can we do as we temporarily physically distance ourselves from others...
(4) Relax and meditate.
If you are experiencing a challenge with any one of those four goals, get in touch with us at The Breathe Institute so we can help. We have case managers available for remote telemedicine evaluations to review your case and direct you to the proper resources, as well as Zoom online medical evaluations.
Our team of doctors and healthcare professionals is available to provide you with individualized medical advice. We look forward to the deep breath of relief we will all experience when we pass though the other side of this interesting time, but for now: keep calm, wash your hands, and Breathe on!
Your Friends at The Breathe Institute
Dr. Soroush Zaghi, Chad Knutsen, Leyli Norouz-Knutsen
“Tongue up, lips closed, healthy breathing through the nose.”