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Asthma health centre

Breathing exercises

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for parents of a child who has asthma. It tells you about breathing exercises, a treatment used for asthma.

Do they work?

We haven't looked at the research on breathing exercises in as much detail as we've looked at the research on most of the treatments we cover. (To read more, see Our method.) But we've included some information because you may have heard of these treatments or be interested in them.

Please remember that there's not been a lot of research on these treatments. Your child shouldn't stop using his or her usual asthma medicines.

What are they?

The Buteyko breathing technique is one of the best-known breathing methods for asthma. People also use other techniques, such as ones from yoga, or physiotherapy techniques, such as the Papworth method.

Buteyko breathing

The Buteyko method is named after its founder, Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, a Russian doctor who developed the technique more than 50 years ago.

Buteyko breathing is based on the idea that asthma and other diseases are caused by breathing that is too fast or too deep (called overbreathing or hyperventilation). Some people think that overbreathing can mean you have too little carbon dioxide in your blood, which causes problems throughout your body.

The theory is that too little carbon dioxide for a long time disrupts the balance of chemicals in the body. Dr Buteyko thought this could stop a child's immune system working properly, and cause it to overreact to allergens, such as pet fur.

Buteyko breathing aims to help people control their breathing to boost the level of carbon dioxide in their blood. This means focusing on things such as breath-holding and relaxing the muscles used in breathing. People usually learn the Buteyko method through classes, which last four or five days. Special classes are offered for children with asthma and their parents.

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 to encourage nose breathing (this can involve wearing tape over the 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.

Adults and children who use Buteyko breathing 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 steroids from an inhaler, if this is part of their treatment.

Other breathing exercises

Since the 1960s, physiotherapists have used a set of breathing exercises called the Papworth method to treat asthma. These exercises teach people to avoid breathing too quickly or deeply, and to match their breathing to how hard they're working.

People are also taught to breathe from their diaphragm, and take in air through their nose instead of their mouth. The breathing exercises are combined with relaxation techniques, and tapes or CDs can be used to practise at home.

Last Updated: July 03, 2012
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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