The role of breathing training in asthma management

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Abstract

Purpose of review

There is considerable public interest in the use of breathing modification techniques in the treatment of asthma. Surveys suggest many people with asthma use them, often without the knowledge of their medical attendants. Extravagant claims have been made about the effectiveness of some techniques, resulting in scepticism from orthodox clinicians. The evidence supporting breathing training for asthma was previously weak, and limited by the small size and methodological limitations of published research.

Recent findings

The evidence base for the effectiveness of breathing training has recently improved, with reports from several larger and more methodologically robust controlled trials. These trials are reviewed in this study, and the findings placed in context. Trials have investigated a variety of breathing training programmes delivered by different therapists in different ways. All incorporate some instruction in breathing pattern, usually focusing on slow, regular, nasal, abdominal breathing and reduced ventilation, with patients instructed to practise exercises at home and when symptomatic.

Summary

Current evidence suggests that breathing training programmes can be effective in improving patient-reported outcomes such as symptoms, quality of life and psychological impact; and may reduce the use of rescue bronchodilator medication. There is little evidence that airways physiology, hyper-responsiveness or inflammation is affected by such training. The optimal way of providing breathing training within the context of routine asthma care is still uncertain.

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