BUTEYKO breathing hyperventilation exercises in patients with asthma reduced beta agonist use by 90% and improved symptoms, according to preliminary results of a randomised, controlled trial in Brisbane.
However, there were no changes in major physiological parameters such as peak flow rate or FEV1 in people using Buteyko breathing.
The study was reported at a meeting of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand in Hobart last week by Dr Simon Bowler, a respiratory physician at Mater Hospital in Brisbane.
Dr Bowler said there were no obvious explanations for the apparent short-term benefits of Buteyko breathing.
“We were surprised at the results, as we didn’t expect any significant changes,” he told Australian Doctor.
Proponents of the technique claimed that hyperventilation and the subsequent increase in carbon dioxide levels could relieve the symptoms of bronchospasm and favourably affect the long- term course of asthma.
The study was prompted by publicity about Buteyko breathing and the number of inquirie to asthma foundations and requests for advice from other health professionals it had generated.
The study was funded by the Australian Association of Asthma Foundations. Forty patients with well-documented asthma and significant daily use of bronchodilators were recruited and randomised to a Buteyko or control group – 39 remained in the study.
The Buteyko group received classes from a Buteyko instructor for 90 minutes a day for seven days and the classes included direct encouragement to minimise beta agonist use.
The control patients received a similar regimen of physiotherapy classes which included standard asthma education, breathing exercises (excluding any hyperventilation) and relaxation techniques. Both groups were carefully instructed to use bronchodilators only as required and not on a routine basis.
“We would expect education to influence the patients’ asthma management, but wouldn’t normally expect the other techniques to have any major effect on medication use or respiratory function,” Dr Bowler said.
“After six weeks there was a 90% reduction in beta agonist use in the Buteyko group, compared to only a 5% reduction in the control group.”
“There was also a signficant difference in quality of life and improvement in symptom scores in the Buteyko group.”
“These changes occurred in the absence of any improvement in airflow” Dr. Bowler said.
“In this study, there appears to be some short-term benefit from Buteyko techniques in terms of reduced beta agonist use, without obvious cost in terms of worsening symptom scores.”
The trial continued for another six weeks to investigate the effect of reducing inhaled corticosteroid use, but the data are yet to be analysed.