Deep Breathing Exercises And Asthma

Here’s everything you need to know about complementary, alternative, and natural remedies for asthma, including which ones doctors say may actually help with asthma symptoms.

Diana Rodriguez

By Diana Rodriguez

Medically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD

Last Updated: April 27, 2021

Medically Reviewed

woman breathing exercises wearing headphones

Some complementary therapies may help manage asthma symptoms (and the stressors that can make symptoms worse). But experts say never substitute alternative therapies for medications and treatments prescribed by your doctor.iStock

If you have asthma, odds are you’ve come across products marketed as “natural remedies,” “complementary therapies,” or “alternative treatments” for asthma symptoms.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), complementary therapies involve using nontraditional practices in combination with traditional medicine, whereas alternative treatments are used instead of traditional medicine. “Natural remedies” can fall into one or both these categories.

As of 2012, more than 30 percent of American adults turned to complementary therapies or alternative medicine, per the NCCIH. So, clearly, they’re popular — but when it comes to asthma, are they safe to use?

Popular options advertised as “alternative treatments” with claims of enhancing symptom control aren't automatically safe to use, says Anju Tripathi Peters, MD, a professor in the division of allergy, immunology, otolaryngology, and head and neck surgery at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

It’s important to note right off the bat that certain things touted as potential remedies or complementary therapies for asthma, such as supplements, aren’t regulated in the same way prescription drugs are, and consumers should pay attention to the details of the research backing up any claims made, Dr. Peters says. For example, “Many have shown benefits in animals only,” Peters explains.

If you are going to try a “natural remedy” or complementary therapy for asthma, know that it’s not a substitute for your conventional asthma medication. “While some natural remedies may help, they should not replace the medications prescribed by someone’s doctor,” says Lakiea Wright, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist and an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Skipping prescribed medications can have dangerous consequences, according to Mayo Clinic.

If you're wondering which approaches might help when it comes to asthma management, here’s what you should know.

Which Complementary Treatments for Asthma Have Evidence to Show They Work?

When it comes to natural and complementary treatment approaches for asthma with high-quality evidence to back up their use, exercise stands out as the intervention with the most data behind it. Although, per the American Lung Association, exercise can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms (known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction), research has shown regular exercise when done safely can help improve asthma control, too.

“If we look at exercise training, there’s strong evidence that it improves cardiovascular fitness, and that it improves quality of life,” says David G. Hill, MD, the director of clinical research at Waterbury Pulmonary Associates in Connecticut and a member of the American Lung Association’s national board of directors.

A trial published in August 2019 in Scientific Reports found that for mild to moderate asthma, a 24-week exercise plan involving aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week, plus strength-training and stretching, helped improve asthma control and reduced shortness of breath.

In another trial, published in October 2020 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers found exercise helped improve asthma control when compared with breathing exercises among people with moderate to severe asthma.

Be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen to avoid exercise-induced asthma, says Dr. Wright. “Your doctor may recommend medications to help prevent attacks,” she says. And stop any activity if you become short of breath, begin to cough, or start to feel pain or tightening in your chest, states the American Lung Association.

On days when the air quality outdoors is unhealthy, it’s best not to break a sweat outside, the American Lung Association says.

Complementary Therapies for Asthma With Limited Evidence

The following four treatments have some promising research to support their use, but experts say more evidence is needed to conclusively say where they fit into asthma management.

Breathing Exercises

There are a number of different breathing techniques, including the Papworth method, the Buteyko technique, yoga breathing, and deep diaphragmatic breathing, all of which tend to focus on controlled nasal breathing. Can they help people with asthma?

Some evidence suggests breathing exercises may benefit people with asthma, says Hill. According to a meta-analysis published in March 2020 in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, moderate to very low certainty evidence suggests that breathing exercises improve lung function, symptoms related to hyperventilation — breathing that is heavier and quicker than normal — and overall quality of life for people with asthma.

A study published in October 2018 in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics suggests that breathing exercises may also help children with chronic mild to moderate asthma or uncontrolled asthma, but are less likely to help those with acute severe asthma. Researchers note that more research is needed before doctors can recommend breathing exercises as a standard treatment for children with asthma.

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to try breathing exercises, the Global Allergy and Airways Patient Platform outlines some techniques you can try for asthma.

Credit: Everyday Health 

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