Asthma breathing techniques may be used as part of your treatment for asthma. Find out which breathing exercises have research to back them up.
Anyone with asthma can tell you that breathing can be troublesome. But are special exercises designed for those with asthma among the asthma breathing tips you ought to consider?
A review of asthma breathing techniques, released by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), looked at various breathing techniques to see which were effective as an additional or alternative treatment for asthma. The scientists examined evidence from many studies, searching for specific improvements in asthma symptoms, reductions in asthma medication use, improved quality of life, or improved lung function.
“We looked at four types of breathing exercises for asthma,” said lead author Elizabeth O’Connor, PhD, from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore. “The types of asthma breathing techniques included hyperventilation reduction breathing techniques, yoga breathing techniques, inspiratory muscle training, and others.”
Potential Asthma Breathing Techniques
“It was hard to find many good studies on these breathing exercises,” O’Connor said. “There were only a few large studies and many smaller studies with lots of flaws. That can make the data hard to analyze.”
O’Connor and her team evaluated:
- Hyperventilation reduction breathing. This breathing exercise, also called Buteyko breathing, “is based on the theory that people with asthma hyperventilate, which causes increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood,” O’Connor said. “By training yourself to breath less deeply and more slowly, you learn to breathe in a better way.”
- Yoga. Yoga breathing exercises combine traditional yoga movements with periods of long, slow, focused breathing through the nose.
- Inspiratory muscle training (IMT). For this breathing exercise, you suck air through a mouthpiece to build up your respiratory muscles. Training usually involves sessions five days a week for several weeks.
- Other techniques. These included various breathing exercises and biofeedback.
What the Researchers Found
“There was one large study on hyperventilation reduction breathing and a few smaller studies that show this breathing exercise has the best outcomes,” O’Connor said. “People using this technique were able to significantly reduce their need for asthma relief medications. Yoga breathing shows promise, but the studies were not well-controlled. Studies with the best results involved practicing yoga breathing for four hours per day. The other two types of breathing had no studies we could use to support them.”
Specifics on the findings include:
- The large study on hyperventilation reduction breathing involved 600 people. Participants achieved medium-to-large improvements in asthma symptoms but did not improve lung function.
- Yoga breathing techniques require intensive training to work. “In one study done in the United States, people training a few times a week saw no improvement,” said O’Connor. “Yoga breathing in America remains questionable but promising.”
- IMT has been shown to improve respiratory muscle fitness in people with COPD, but there are not enough studies to recommend it for asthma.
“One positive about these studies is that there was no evidence that any of the breathing exercises are harmful,” said Christine Chang, MD, MPH, who managed the grant for AHRQ. In other words, it can’t hurt you to try them.
Breathing Exercise as Alternative Treatment for Asthma
Breathing exercises for asthma, like yoga or Buteyko breathing, are not substitutes for traditional asthma treatment. They may be valuable, though, as an add-on treatment. “Although they are safe, the only caution I would have is that they are not safe if someone stops traditional treatment and uses them as a primary treatment,” noted O’Connor.
Both yoga and Buteyko breathing emphasize breathing more slowly and breathing through your nose and stress the importance of fitness and health — all good general asthma breathing tips.
“If you want to try adding a breathing exercise as part of your treatment,” Dr. Chang said, “talk to your doctor first and make sure you balance any alternative treatment with known and effective treatment.”
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