Article Text

Breathing exercises for asthma: a randomised controlled trial
  1. M Thomas1,
  2. R K McKinley2,
  3. S Mellor3,
  4. G Watkin3,
  5. E Holloway4,
  6. J Scullion3,
  7. D E Shaw3,
  8. A Wardlaw3,
  9. D Price1,
  10. I Pavord3
  1. 1
    Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  2. 2
    Keele University Medical School, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK
  3. 3
    Institute for Lung Health, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, UK
  4. 4
    Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Dr M Thomas, Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill Health Centre, Westburn Road, Aberdeen AB25 2AY, UK; mikethomas{at}


Background: The effect of breathing modification techniques on asthma symptoms and objective disease control is uncertain.

Methods: A prospective, parallel group, single-blind, randomised controlled trial comparing breathing training with asthma education (to control for non-specific effects of clinician attention) was performed. Subjects with asthma with impaired health status managed in primary care were randomised to receive three sessions of either physiotherapist-supervised breathing training (n = 94) or asthma nurse-delivered asthma education (n = 89). The main outcome was Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ) score, with secondary outcomes including spirometry, bronchial hyper-responsiveness, exhaled nitric oxide, induced sputum eosinophil count and Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ), Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) and hyperventilation (Nijmegen) questionnaire scores.

Results: One month after the intervention there were similar improvements in AQLQ scores from baseline in both groups but at 6 months there was a significant between-group difference favouring breathing training (0.38 units, 95% CI 0.08 to 0.68). At the 6-month assessment there were significant between-group differences favouring breathing training in HAD anxiety (1.1, 95% CI 0.2 to 1.9), HAD depression (0.8, 95% CI 0.1 to 1.4) and Nijmegen (3.2, 95% CI 1.0 to 5.4) scores, with trends to improved ACQ (0.2, 95% CI 0.0 to 0.4). No significant between-group differences were seen at 1 month. Breathing training was not associated with significant changes in airways physiology, inflammation or hyper-responsiveness.

Conclusion: Breathing training resulted in improvements in asthma-specific health status and other patient-centred measures but not in asthma pathophysiology. Such exercises may help patients whose quality of life is impaired by asthma, but they are unlikely to reduce the need for anti-inflammatory medication.

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Supplementary materials

  • web only appendix 64/1/55


  • ▸ Additional information is given in the appendices published online only at

  • Funding: This study was funded by a grant from Asthma UK (03/014). MT is in receipt of an Asthma UK Senior Research Fellowship.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: Ethical approval was provided by the Leicestershire research ethics committee.

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