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Breathing Techniques

Breathing techniques are one of the most popular complementary therapies for asthma.1 There are several different types of breathing exercises. They can be grouped as:2,3

  • Breath retraining.
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles that help you breathe.
  • Yoga breathing techniques.

Guidelines from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute say that there is not enough evidence to know whether breathing techniques help people with asthma.4 Studies of breathing techniques are generally small. Most studies have very different designs. This makes it hard to compare the results. In contrast, the Global Initiative for Asthma states that breathing techniques may be useful.5 They should be used in addition to asthma medications, not in place of medication. According to these guidelines, this recommendation is based on high quality evidence.

How do breathing techniques work?


Breath retraining. Breath retraining is also called “hyperventilation reduction techniques.” Hyperventilation is also called overbreathing. When you hyperventilate, you breathe more quickly or deeply than normal.6 This leads to low carbon dioxide levels in your blood. Low carbon dioxide causes symptoms such as dizziness.

The goal of breath retraining is to normalize your breathing pattern. Another goal is to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood.2,7 Some people say this reduces breathlessness and reverses airway narrowing.7 However, the role of hyperventilation in causing asthma symptoms is not clear.3

Examples of breath retraining techniques are Buteyko breathing, the Papworth method, and capnometry-assisted respiratory training.7,8 These techniques focus on:2,3

  • Shallow breathing.
  • Breathing through your nose.
  • Holding your breath after exhaling.
  • Using abdominal (core) muscles for breathing.


Inspiratory muscle training. Other breathing exercises strengthen the muscles that help you breathe. Having asthma may change the way that your chest muscles work. Some people with asthma have constantly overinflated lungs.9 This causes the chest muscles to shorten up. Eventually, the muscles do not work as well.

Breathing devices are used for breathing muscle training. Just as dumbells provide resistance for building arm muscle, these devices provide resistance to build the breathing muscles.9

Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last Reviewed: April 2019.
  1. Slader CA, Reddel HK, Spencer LM, et al. Double blind randomised controlled trial of two different breathing techniques in the management of asthma. Thorax. 2006;61:651-656.
  2. Thomas M, Bruton A. Breathing exercises for asthma. Breathe. 2014;10:312-322. http://breathe.ersjournals.com/content/10/4/312.full
  3. O’Connor E, Patnode CD, Burda BU, et al. Breathing Exercises and/or Retraining Techniques in the Treatment of Asthma: Comparative Effectiveness [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2012 Sep. Available from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109355/
  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Expert panel report 3 (EPR-3): Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma - Full Report 2007. Accessed 11/12/14 at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/asthgdln.pdf
  5. Global Initiative for Asthma. Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention 2014. Online Appendix. Accessed 2/26/15 at: http://www.ginasthma.org/local/uploads/content/files/GINA_Appendix_2014.pdf.
  6. Meuret AE, Ritz T. Hyperventilation in panic disorder and asthma: empirical evidence and clinical strategies. Int J Psychophysiol. 2010;78:68-79. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20685222
  7. Freitas DA, Holloway EA, Bruno SS, et al. Breathing exercises for adults with asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;10:CD001277.
  8. Ritz T, Rosenfield D, Steele AM, et al. Controlling asthma by training of Capnometry-Assisted Hypoventilation (CATCH) vs slow breathing: a randomized controlled trial. Chest. 2014;146:1237-1247.
  9. Silva IS, Fregonezi GA, Dias FA, et al. Inspiratory muscle training for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;9:CD003792.
  10. Cramer H, Posadzki P, Dobos G, Langhorst J. Yoga for asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014;112:503-510.
  11. Agache I, Ciobanu C, Paul G, Rogozea L. Dysfunctional breathing phenotype in adults with asthma - incidence and risk factors. Clin Transl Allergy. 2012;2:18.
  12. Medline Plus. Hyperventiliation. Accessed 2/2/15 at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003071.htm