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Asthma health centre

Breathing techniques

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for adults with asthma. It looks at breathing techniques that aim to help with asthma symptoms. These techniques are meant to be used together with your usual asthma drugs, not instead of them.

We haven’t looked at the research on this treatment in the same detail we have for the other treatments we cover. (To learn more, see Our method). But we've included some information because you might be interested.

What do breathing techniques involve?

There are several different breathing techniques used to help improve asthma. One of the best-known is called Buteyko breathing, named after the doctor who developed the technique. Another is called the Papworth technique. It was developed by physiotherapists. Some people also try breathing techniques from yoga, such as pranayama breathing.

All the techniques aim to correct breathing that is too fast, or too deep. This is sometimes called 'dysfunctional breathing'. You may also hear it called overbreathing or hyperventilation.

Breathing techniques aim to help people control their breathing. This means focusing on things such as breathing through the nose, slowing the breathing, and relaxing the muscles used in breathing.

People usually learn the Buteyko method through classes for four or five days. The Papworth Method is also taught in about five sessions.

The Buteyko breathing technique teaches people:

  • To breathe through their nose, not their mouth

  • Ways to clear their nose to help with breathing

  • Ways to keep their mouth closed so they breathe through their nose (this can involve wearing tape over their mouth when sleeping)

  • How to check whether they are overbreathing

  • Ways to stop overbreathing by doing breath-holding exercises

  • Lifestyle changes to help reduce overbreathing, such as eating less and doing less stressful exercises.

The Papworth method also involves learning relaxation techniques, learning which muscles to use when breathing, and avoiding breathing too deeply or too fast.

People who use breathing techniques should not suddenly stop taking their asthma medicine. They should still carry a quick-relief inhaler with them and also continue to use preventers such as inhaled steroids if this is part of their treatment.

How can they help?

We don't know whether the Buteyko breathing technique works because not enough research has been done. Here's what some of the research says so far.

In one study, 39 people with asthma were given either Buteyko training or general asthma and relaxation training. It found that those who had Buteyko training used less asthma medicine and did less overbreathing than the group who had general asthma education. The Buteyko group also seemed to have a slightly better quality of life, although the difference between the groups wasn't that big. [94]

In a study of the Papworth Method, 85 people were given either training in Papworth breathing, or usual medical care. Six and 12 months later, people who'd had the training had fewer symptoms of asthma. They also breathed more slowly in tests. [95]

A third study compared Buteyko breathing with a device that mimics a breathing technique from pranayama, which is a type of yoga that teaches different ways of breathing. [96] People who used Buteyko breathing had a drop in asthma symptoms and they used their quick-relief inhaler less often. There was no real change in the group using the pranayama device.

Citations

For references related to Asthma in adults click here.
Last Updated: March 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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