Breathing techniques to improve asthma symptoms

Fred Little Health Pro
  • In this entry, I would like to summarize a recent research study on the effect that certain simple breathing exercises can have on improving asthma control.


    New research on an old technique

    In the 1960s, a series of breathing exercises was developed for patients with asthma and other breathing disorders at the PapworthHospital in England. The technique, known as the Papworth Method, was used variably to help people with asthma, especially in Europe. The technique involves a combination of training and exercises which focus on breathing from the diaphragm (rather than with chest muscles), breathing through the nose, and relaxation. One of the reasons the Method fell out of favor is that medications for asthma have improved markedly over the past four decades. In addition, like many treatments, there were no tightly controlled studies to assess the Method’s effectiveness. Without these types of controlled studies comparing patients with and without the treatment side-by-side, one could not say definitively that it worked.

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    A recent research study from England addressed this issue by enrolling 85 patients with mild asthma and randomly assigning them to treatment with the Papworth method (along with usual asthma care) or usual asthma care alone (the ‘control’ group). They assessed how well the patients’ asthma symptoms were controlled based on well-proven breathing control questionnaires as well as questionnaires to assess level of relaxation. These questionnaires were administered at six and 12 months from the beginning of the study.


    The researchers found that not only were symptoms better controlled in the group that underwent five sessions of education in the Papworth Method, but as a group they were more relaxed. As is true in studies of this type, group averages were studied, so any patient’s individual response was variable. On the whole, however, members of the group that used the Papworth Method felt that their asthma was under better control.


    Stress relief and asthma

    As I discussed in an earlier entry, emotional stress can be a significant trigger for many asthma sufferers. It is clear from clinical experience and research studies that asthma control is often poorer for individuals under stress. The recent British study extends this observation into a new area by showing that specific techniques to help patients have relaxed breathing improve asthma symptoms. And it seems that the effects of learning these techniques were lasting, with patients continuing to have better control 12 months after starting the study.


    Closing thoughts

    Asthma control requires many components, including medicine, advice from doctors and nurses, as well as lifestyle modifications. Using specific techniques to improve breathing with asthma can now be considered another way in which asthma patients can better ‘take control’ of their disease.

Published On: July 05, 2007