Treatments for asthma tend to focus on various medications, especially long-term controllers such as inhaled and oral corticosteroids and quick relievers like short-acting bronchodilators. But some individuals with asthma may find that their symptoms calm down when they engage in breath training. While unconventional, this therapy can be effective, says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "It may not result in changes in pulmonary functioning, but if a person feels better or more in control, than it doesn't matter if you can't quantify whether or not breath training works," Horovitz declares.

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects 20 million people in the U.S., seven million of whom are children. "Many adults think asthma is a pediatric problem," Horovitz says. "But it's very common in the adult population as well."

What Is Breath Training?

Breath training is any breathing technique or exercise that attempts to change your typical breathing pattern, explains Rachel Szekely, MD, an allergist and immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic. "Some studies have shown some improvement in asthma symptoms and a reduction in the need for rescue medications when these breathing techniques are used during asthma symptoms," she says. But, Szekely adds, no studies have shown an improvement in lung function with these breath training exercises.

One method of breath training, called the Buteyko method, is a shallow breathing technique in which asthma sufferers are instructed to not take a breath immediately after exhaling, Horovitz explains. "At the end of an exhalation, you don't breathe right away, and this reduces your respiratory rate per minute," he says. "Basically, you see how long you can hold your breath." Developed by the Russian physician Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s, the technique, which uses shallow breathing, can seem almost counterintuitive—a person who's gasping for breath wants to gulp air. But proponents say it works.

Other methods of breath training include yoga, which emphasizes paying close attention to your breath, and inspiratory muscle training, Szekely explains.

If you are wondering whether you might have asthma, see your doctor, who may order a pulmonary function test, Horovitz says. Treatment will depend upon how well your lungs are functioning.

Is Breath Training Right for You?

If you have asthma, could breath training be right for you? "It's not as if the disease process gets any better with breath training," Horovitz says. "But if this complementary treatment makes a person more comfortable, there is no harm in doing it."

Rachel Szekely, MD, reviewed this article.




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"Asthma: Does Breathing Training Help?" PubMed Health. Web. Page updated 11 Dec. 2009. Page accessed 27 August 2013.