Background: Previous studies have shown that breathing techniques reduce short acting beta(2) agonist use and improve quality of life (QoL) in asthma. The primary aim of this double blind study was to compare the effects of breathing exercises focusing on shallow nasal breathing with those of non-specific upper body exercises on asthma symptoms, QoL, other measures of disease control, and inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) dose. This study also assessed the effect of peak flow monitoring on outcomes in patients using breathing techniques.
Methods: After a 2 week run in period, 57 subjects were randomised to one of two breathing techniques learned from instructional videos. During the following 30 weeks subjects practised their exercises twice daily and as needed for relief of symptoms. After week 16, two successive ICS downtitration steps were attempted. The primary outcome variables were QoL score and daily symptom score at week 12.
Results: Overall there were no clinically important differences between the groups in primary or secondary outcomes at weeks 12 or 28. The QoL score remained unchanged (0.7 at baseline v 0.5 at week 28, p = 0.11 both groups combined), as did lung function and airway responsiveness. However, across both groups, reliever use decreased by 86% (p<0.0001) and ICS dose was reduced by 50% (p<0.0001; p>0.10 between groups). Peak flow monitoring did not have a detrimental effect on asthma outcomes.
Conclusion: Breathing techniques may be useful in the management of patients with mild asthma symptoms who use a reliever frequently, but there is no evidence to favour shallow nasal breathing over non-specific upper body exercises.