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Techniques to help people with asthma breathe easy

New research funded by Asthma UK shows that breathing techniques can help to treat people who continue to experience asthma symptoms in spite of current drug treatments.

Dr Mike Thomas at the University of Aberdeen has shown that breathing exercises taught by a physiotherapist could work alongside asthma medicines to treat symptoms in people who have difficulty controlling their asthma.

There are 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma and many continue to experience debilitating symptoms despite current drug treatments. Over 200 people a day are rushed to hospital with life-threatening asthma attacks and there are 1,200 asthma deaths each year.

Participants for this study attended three training sessions, supervised by a physiotherapist, over the course of six months. They were taught to recognise "dysfunctional breathing" such as hyperventilating (over-breathing) and breathing too shallowly through the mouth and upper-chest.

They were then taught appropriate, regular, diaphragmatic and nasal breathing techniques and were encouraged to practice these exercises for at least ten minutes each day.

One month after the final session had been completed, researchers assessed both groups by measuring asthma symptoms and lung function and asking participants about their quality of life. They found significant improvements in asthma control for both groups.

As breathing exercises do not affect airway inflammation or the underlying physiology of asthma, they would provide an add-on therapy, rather than reducing the need for asthma medicines themselves. People with asthma are often interested in how non-drug treatments could help them and this research has demonstrated that these exercises have an important role to play.

Dr Mike Thomas, Asthma UK Senior Research Fellow, says: ‘We hope that the results of this study will encourage the NHS to provide wider access to trained chest physiotherapists for people with asthma. Breathing exercises are not a cure, but for many they could mean the difference between being unable to leave the house or play with their children, and living a normal, symptom-free life.’

Asthma UK