Medical Question #H

MEDICAL ADVICE FROM

DR. HELEN STERN

Three questions -- scroll


Q: I like to wear tight corsets, but I'm suffering from bronchial asthma, especially in the winter season. Medical experts say, that I should avoid everything that could impede breathing, including tight clothing. I think, I can help myself from moment to moment (if my breath gets short, I loosen the lacing), but is there a real danger? I would be very happy if you could help me with this special problem. Perhaps I'm not the only one with this concern. --Malati (3/7/97)

A: It is not easy to answer your question without having access to your medical history and particularly your lung function tests.

However, if you have a SEVERE problem with breathing and significantly pathologic tests of course you must avoid even the slightest impairment of your lung capacity, i.e. NO CORSET. You must also recognize the danger of having an asthmatic attack when alone and tightly laced up and then in agony have to tamper with the knot in your back or a refractory busk.

If you have minor subjective symptoms only you can use an only slightly laced corset for the comfortable support of your figure. The degree of lacing is your choice but should be carefully adapted to the degree of your disease and your feeling of well-being. Also the height of your corset is important. Forget about the very high, long-waisted and severely laced corsets cramping your thorax and lungs. Lacing your waist into a low corset only might not impair your lung capacity and would be an alternative. But even so a low waist-corset will more or less immobilize your diaphragm and result in a thoracic type of breathing - easily observed in all corseted women with their heaving bosoms. This does not create any harm for a healthy woman but must be taken into consideration if you have a lung disease.

My best advice is: Take the advice of your own doctor!

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Q: I have recently taken to Elizabethan corsets. Currently they're strictly for costume or occasional use, but I'm planning to make several for daily wear. However, I have both asthma {mild to moderate, depending on various factors}, and fibromyalgia. Are there any reports that you know of in which Elizabethan corsets triggered fibro symptoms, or long-term usage made them worsen more quickly? ---Sushi (10/16/97)

A: Regarding corsetting and slight to moderate asthma, there is no reason to refrain from corsets but, of course, you must be careful not being caught by an acute asthmatic attack in a tightly laced corset - quick release is of course necessary. Regarding fibromyalgia I have no information about Elizabethan or other corsets and their possibly negative impact.

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Q: My wife has asthma. She was coughing spells from time to time. Nether one us smoke. Recently, we attended a Christmas party at a hotel ballroom. She wore a purple Edwardian corset laced to where she was comfortable. She wears corsets 2 or 3 times a month. She wore the corset for 5 hours and only had to adjust the laces once, by moving slack from the ends to the middle after 
dinner. The real question is she did not have one coughing spell all night. Could the corset make her breath the right way to the lungs and not to the diaphragm? The next day she was back coughing. ---Steve & Sandy (12/12/00)

A: What you describe has been documented in some form in 19th century medical literature. Specifically, people with lung problems would be treated by binding or constricting the lower chest, intended to limit lung movement. For men, starched bandages were used, for women modified corsets. It was believed that friction of the lung against the ribcage caused irritation of the lungs. Today, this cannot be confirmed in any manner, but what is interesting is that the lower chest constriction did alleviate the symptoms. 

Asthma is believed to be an overreaction or super response of the bronchial muscles, constricting the airways, and compromising the exhale of air. Constricting the lower chest will expand the upper chest, and thus the shape of the lungs is made to be different. The airways may benefit from this as different portions of the lungs will be used more than before the constriction. Although what I just mentioned is somewhat speculative, this is a real phenomenon. 

Experiment with longer term wear, and monitor the effects.

(3/7/97>12/9/00)-H


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