SINGAPORE - For most of us, breathing is second nature.
But for Venerable Shi You Guang, who is in his mid-30s, every breath requires a conscious effort.
Even holding a conversation for extended periods or climbing the stairs can be taxing.
He developed asthmatic symptoms after national service and, over the next 10 years, his condition deteriorated to that of severe persistent asthma, which is the most serious stage of the illness.
At this level, standard asthma medication such as inhalers and steroids are of little help.
Indeed, Venerable Shi's condition has affected his duties as a monk at Puat Jit Buddhist Temple in Sengkang.
"In my monastic life, asthma affects me a lot as I have to do prostration very slowly," he said.
But thanks to a new treatment called bronchial thermoplasty, he can now breathe easier.
The procedure makes use of heat to "burn" away muscles around a person's airway that are responsible for contraction, effectively widening the airway and allowing more space for air to flow through.
Venerable Shi told The New Paper about his daily challenges before the treatment.
"I am very sensitive to unclean air such as cigarette smoke," he said.
His condition is so bad that he ends up in hospital two or three times a year because of severe attacks. The last time he was warded was around June last year, when the haze was at its worst.
Said Venerable Shi: "I stayed at home to limit my exposure to the polluted air, but even simple routines like bathing took much more effort than usual."
After five days at home, coping with the haze became too much for him and he admitted himself to hospital.
Late last year, a specialist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital referred him to Associate Professor Lee Pyng, a senior consultant with the National University Hospital's Division of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine.
After thinking over it for several months, Venerable Shi underwent bronchial thermoplasty in February.
His condition has improved a lot and he is now able to perform functions such as chanting for longer periods of time and with greater ease.
Tests also show that Venerable Shi has tripled his air capacity.
"I am now able to breathe more deeply and much of the stress is gone," he said.
This article was first published on JULY 8, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.