Over ear headphones with an illustrated heart in between the speakers.

Music (Therapy.)

While there are certain songs that I find have resonance to my life with asthma, when I was writing earlier about living positively with asthma and tackling some of the mental and emotional stuff associated with this physical disease, a song came on that seemed oddly appropriate—not to my current mental state, but to what I was writing about: adjusting to asthma, coping skills, and stepping back.

For me, music has always been a powerful way that I process things. Hearing other people’s thoughts and stories communicated through song has resonated with me longer than I can remember. This morning as I was writing, Watch the Sky by Something Corporate shuffled on—a song that has helped push me through more than a few cruddy medical situations

Just about everybody’s got songs that are like that: the ones that you listen to on repeat during certain situations because the artist seems to be in your head—or because the melody got there somehow and it won’t leave.

This is, to me, an informal type of music therapy. Music therapy, formally, is the use of music by a trained music therapist to allow self-expression and promote emotional, mental, and spiritual health1, Music, when used in therapy settings, creates opportunities for self-awareness, learning, expression, communication, and personal development1—music is not only enjoyable, it’s also powerful.

For the most part, asthma research focused on using music therapy has indicated that there is no benefit to asthma symptoms to integrate music therapy in treatment. This makes sense, of course, as while music therapy may help to ease the emotional aspects of asthma—like when I find a song that really captures what I’m feeling about dealing with asthma—but, we know that asthma is not an emotional disorder. However, asthma, like other chronic conditions, can certainly have an impact on our mental health. As I’ve written before, people with asthma are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and, in turn, substance abuse issues than people without asthma2, 3, so adding intentional music therapy experiences to treatment might be helpful. The same goes for dealing with stress of coping with a chronic condition.4 For anxiety, depression, and stress, music therapy is strongly indicated to have a positive influence on wellbeing.

  • If you have allergies, you’re probably familiar with the term histamine—or, maybe anti-histamine, the medicine decreases the impact of allergy symptoms in your body, caused by the compound histamine. One study indicated in both allergic and non-allergic participants that “feel-good music” exposure contributed to lower levels of histamine in their saliva.5 Unfortunately, blood (plasma) histamine was not measured in this study.5
  • Different types of music have been studied for their effect on stress. Self-selected relaxing music, and classical music, were demonstrated to decrease negative feelings after a stressful situation more-so than heavy metal was6.
  • Usually, I also look at human research rather than rat-research. However, I thought a study of rats that involved music was interesting—especially as those rats had asthma. So, rats (as far as I know) have no conceptualization of music—there’s no potential for a placebo-effect in which rats exposed to music think it’s going to help them. The rats, under equal stress conditions to other similarly aged and grouped rats, who were exposed to music (specifically Mozart).7 Mozart music therapy group rats expressed lower IL-4 (interleukin 4) and corticosterone, which is similar to cortisol (a primary stress-related hormone in humans), levels than the rats who did not undergo music therapy.7 Rats can’t exactly report symptoms, of course and so having evidence within biomarkers of the impact of music on health important… and is pretty huge in terms of making this information relatable to us as skeptical humans.
  • However… a 2014 meta-analysis (where all of the available literature on a topic is gathered for extensive review) on music in asthma treatment indicated a “weak recommendation” for music therapy in asthma treatment—though 867 research documents were reviewed, with varying methods and scopes, more extensive research needs to be done in this area.8

We of course know, as well, the effects of stress on asthma—that when we experience stress, hormonal changes caused by stress can impact our breathing. If you find music helps you feel more in control, or deal with stress—you’ve got good reason to, and the literature out there will back you up! While music is not likely to help you breathe any better, at least on its own, anything that helps you relax is a good enough reason to keep it as part of your routine.

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