Scientific proof of the benefits to the sinuses of humming was provided by an interesting study carried out in Sweden in 2002, and published in the well-respected medical journal the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.1
The researchers weren’t actually investigating the benefits of White’s Technique: they were looking for an easy, non-invasive way of testing in patients with sinus symptoms whether the passageway linking their paranasal sinuses to the inside of their nose was open or blocked up.
They had the idea that they could measure this using the gas nitric oxide, which is produced in the human respiratory tract as a by-product of normal breathing. Especially large amounts of it are produced in the paranasal sinuses, so the air in the sinuses has a high concentration of the gas. They therefore reasoned that measuring, in a scientifically controlled way, the amount of nitric oxide in the air a patient is breathing out should be a way of finding out whether the air in the sinuses is able to get to the outside:
- if there is a lot of nitric oxide in the out-breath then the passage from the sinuses into the nose must be open, allowing the gas to leave the sinuses;
- if there is very little nitric oxide the passage must be blocked, preventing the gas from leaving the sinuses;
- a middling amount would suggest the passage is partially blocked.
As a preliminary experiment the researchers decided to investigate whether the way people were breathing affected the amount of nitric oxide leaving the sinuses with each out-breath.
To do this they got 10 healthy middle-aged men without any breathing problems to breathe out (at the same rate and for the same time) in each of three ways:
- normally (what they called ‘quiet exhalation’),
- with nasal humming,
- with ‘oral phonation’ (making a sound through their mouth).
As they had hoped, they found differences in the amount of nitric oxide being breathed out in the different conditions, showing that, with further work to devise an appropriate measuring scale, the gas probably could be used to measure sinus blockage.
What is interesting from the point of view of White’s Technique, though, is that they found:
breathing out while humming produced 15 times as much nitric oxide in the out-breath compared with quiet exhalation.
In other words, when the men were humming, a lot more air from the sinuses was getting to the outside (being exchanged) compared with when they were breathing normally.
From another experiment the researchers calculated that
96% of the air in a normal maxillary sinus was being exchanged in a single out-breath while humming, compared with only 4% during quiet exhalation.
They concluded that:
‘humming is an extremely effective means of increasing sinus ventilation‘.
White would have been very happy to have told them that a hundred years ago! He knew, from the many successes he had in helping people with long-standing blocked sinuses, that his Technique was very effective at shifting stale mucus out of the sinuses by increasing the air circulation in them.
1Weitzberg, E. and Lundberg, J.O.N. (2002). Humming greatly increases nasal nitric oxide. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, vol. 166, pp. 144–145.
2There was no difference in this experiment between the amount of nitric oxide in out-breaths of the men when they were breathing quietly or making a sound through their mouth. If they had been trained in White’s Technique, making a sound through their mouth should have produced an increase in nitric oxide exchange compared with breathing quietly, because with practice the voice stays focused in the head and produces vibrations in the sinuses just as it does when humming.