Breathing Exercises And Techniques For Asthma

Asthma¹ is among the most common conditions in the US.

This chronic lung disease causes inflammation and narrowing of the tubes that carry air to the lungs, thus making it difficult to breathe. Patients with asthma exhibit symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing, and wheezing.

Since there is no cure, patients with asthma need to treat or prevent symptoms. Performing certain breathing exercises is one way to control asthma symptoms. This article will discuss different breathing exercises for asthma.

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Breathing techniques for asthma

Asthma patients experience breathing problems due to inflammation and narrowing breathing tubes. Often, doctors prescribe medications² that open up these passages and improve breathing.

Breathing techniques are another way to treat and prevent asthma symptoms, often in conjunction with medications. Some exercises help improve the flexibility of the rib (thoracic) cage; others enhance the strength of respiratory muscles, while others can help with breathing retraining.

The breathing exercises discussed below may be beneficial if you have asthma.

Papworth technique

The Papworth technique³ trains you to breathe slowly and steadily via the nose and diaphragm. It helps ease respiratory problems and improve asthma patients' quality of life.

This method aims to integrate breathing and relaxation exercises with education, thus helping to minimize hyperventilation via diaphragmatic breathing.

This is how to perform the Papworth technique:

  • Start by slowly inhaling via the nose.

  • Breathe through pursed lips (position your lips as if you are blowing out something like a candle). Ensure the duration of your exhalation is two times that of inhalation.

You can repeat the Papworth technique 3-5 times.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing⁴ emphasizes learning to breathe from the diaphragm instead of the chest.

It also focuses on improving ventilation and decreasing the activity of the respiratory muscles by minimizing the work of breathing.

Some studies⁵ indicate other benefits for healthy adults, including improved cognitive function and reduced negative physiological and subjective responses to stress. Initially, patients should be trained on this method by therapists.

Here's how you perform the exercise:

  • Place your hand on the upper chest and the other on the stomach.

  • Inhale through your nose while watching keenly how your stomach fills with air

  • Exhale through your mouth for at least 2-3 times longer than you inhale while keeping the neck and shoulders relaxed.

Pursed lip breathing

This breathing exercise for asthma is great when you experience shortness of breath⁶. Pursed lip exercise can help you exhale larger quantities of air. The technique increases the effectiveness of each breath and helps keep your airways open for longer.

However, improper use of this technique may worsen symptoms through increased air retention and carbon dioxide levels due to overuse of respiratory muscles. Below are the steps to correctly perform a pursed-lip breathing exercise:

  • Close your mouth and take a slow breath via your nose

  • Count 1-5 and breathe out via pursed lips at the fifth count. Ensure your exhalation is two times longer than your inhalation.

Buteyko breathing

Hyperventilation (breathing more deeply and rapidly) is common in acute asthma patients. Unfortunately, rapid breathing may worsen asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath. Buteyko breathing⁷ is an excellent technique for asthma patients since it teaches you how to breathe deeper and slow your breathing rate, countering hyperventilation.

Although this exercise doesn't affect lung function, it can reduce the need for asthma medication⁸ and may improve your symptoms. 

Here's how to use the Buteyko breathing technique:

  • Start by sitting straight on a chair

  • Relax your chest and abdominal muscles while taking a deep breath. Ensure you maintain your face straight and close your eyes when doing so

  • Breathe in through the nose (keep your mouth shut)

  • Breathe out slowly until you feel you have exhausted the air in your lungs

  • Hold your breath for a while, and then return to gentle breathing.

Yoga exercises for asthma

Yoga combines steady breathing with movement, stretching, and balance. Yoga exercises may help enhance lung function and improve asthma symptoms.

Bhujangasana⁹ (cobra pose) is one yoga pose that can help patients with asthma. The pose eases asthma symptoms by opening up the chest and clearing the airway to your lungs. Further, it enhances oxygen and blood circulation throughout your body. 

Here's how to perform the cobra pose:

  • Lie flat on your front with the feet pointing behind you

  • Place your hand on either side with your palms touching the surface, right underneath your shoulders

  • While starting to lift, slide your elbows underneath the shoulders and access your fingers forward

  • Press the shoulders down as you grab in sphinx nose

  • Inhale and exhale in front, keeping the chin parallel to the surface.

Physical activities when you have asthma

Physical activity can be beneficial for your asthma and overall health. You may be fearful of certain activities, especially if they have led to an asthma attack in the past.

However, there are many types of exercise like cycling, swimming, walking, jogging, and team sports, which will benefit your health with minimal risk. You can work with your medical care provider to decide on the best forms of physical activity.

How to perform physical activities safely

As you proceed to exercise, you must do the following to ensure your safety: 

  • Be sure to start with gentle warm-up exercises with good breathing techniques.

  • Before starting the exercise, ensure you use your pre-exercise asthma medication if your asthma action plan directs you. Further, always have your inhaler near you.

  • If you exercise during cold weather, ensure you do it indoors or cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or a mask. Anticipate issues with temperature and humidity.

  • Avoid exercising when you have a cold or other viral infections.

  • Always have your reliever inhaler with you.

The lowdown

Breathing exercises for asthma can help you control your symptoms, and physical exercise may help you lessen your sensitivity to your asthma triggers. Before performing breathing exercises, discuss them with your doctor to ensure they are safe for you and will be beneficial. Further, consider speaking to a respiratory therapist who can train you to perform the exercise safely and effectively.

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