If you have asthma or breathing trouble, these exercises might help
Practicing these breathing exercises could even reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life
Asthma Australia strives to support people with asthma to take control of their asthma.
The information provided on breath re-training is of a general nature. You should be guided by your treating doctor’s advice and treatment.
The breathing exercises are not to be used in place of your usual medications to manage your asthma.
Please seek medical advice from your healthcare team with any questions you may have regarding this information.
People with ‘Dysfunctional Breathing’
Some people with asthma also have what is called ‘dysfunctional breathing’. This means your normal breathing pattern is not working for you and can cause you to be short of breath for no apparent reason. Breathing exercises like these can help you retrain your breath to a normal, healthy pattern.
People who ‘Over Breathe’ or ‘Hyperventilate’
Some people with asthma have a breathing pattern where they breathe too fast. This is called ‘over breathing’. You might have heard this called ‘hyperventilating’. This means you take on more air than your body needs. Too much air is a problem because it can make you feel dizzy or more breathless. Being breathless can make you feel anxious. Being anxious or scared can also make your shortness of breath worse. This is what is called the hyperventilation cycle.
People With Other Breathing Conditions
Some people with asthma have more than one lung disease. You might also have bronchiectasis, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to name a few. If so, your doctor or physiotherapist might recommend extra exercises to help reduce your phlegm build up.
Do you have a habit of breathing through your mouth, rather than your nose?
Try to breathe through your nose all the time.
This may take practice if you usually mouth-breathe.
Your lungs like it better when you breathe through your nose because:
Your nose filters the air before it gets to your lungs
This prevents some dust and bacteria reaching your lungs
Your nose can warm and moisten the air you breathe in
Cold, dry air is very irritating to sensitive airways
You are less likely to ‘over breathe”
Don’t put up with a blocked nose!
If hay fever, sinusitis, nasal polyps, or anything else is making you breathe through your mouth, don’t give up! There are many effective treatments available. See your doctor for the best treatment advice. If your nose blockage is severe, you might be referred to a specialist Ear Nose and Throat doctor or Allergy doctor.
Like with any new skill, you might find slow breathing difficult at first.
As it gets easier you can try to increase the length of time that you pause at the end of your breath out, before taking the next breath.
Aim to practice the slow breathing twice a day – building up to about 15 minutes for each session.
Some people find it helpful to practice slow breathing at night, to help them go to sleep.
Controlled Breath Holding
The aim of this breath holding technique is to practice holding your breath without needing to gasp for air afterwards. As you get used to breath holding you are less likely to feel breathless in your everyday life.
How to Practice:
Sit upright and well supported.
Breathe gently in and out through your nose.
Relax your shoulders and chest.
Take a normal relaxed breath in and gently breathe out, using your stomach breathing
At the end of the breath out, pinch your nose and hold your breath
Keep holding your breath until you feel a very slight urge to breathe in. Then let go of your nose and breathe normally.
Your next breath should be a relaxed breath, using your stomach breathing technique.
If you have to take a deep breath or gasp for air at this point, then you may have held your breath for too long. This is not dangerous. Next time you practice, try not to hold your breath for as long.
Once you can hold your breath in this way, repeat it 3 more times, with a 1-minute rest in between each breath hold.
Aim to practice 3 to 4 controlled breath holds twice a day.
Airway Clearance Techniques
Do you have a lot of phlegm or sputum? Do you find yourself coughing up lots of “gunk”? Do you have another breathing condition like bronchiectasis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
Then you might benefit from more targeted breathing exercises. There are some breathing exercises that can help cough up that “gunk”. These are called ‘Airway clearance techniques’. It’s important to clear mucus and phlegm from your lungs so it doesn’t block airflow.
What are Airway Clearance Techniques?
The ‘Active Cycle of Breathing’ technique
This incorporates the exercises on this page, plus ‘huffing’.
Positive Expiratory Pressure
Where you breathe out against a resistance device.
Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure
Where you breathe out against resistance through a device that vibrates.
Which One Should I Try?
The right exercise for you depends on:
The severity of your lung condition.
Your other medical conditions.
Your lung capacity.
The amount of daily phlegm production.
Because of all these factors, you need personalised instructions to start doing airway clearance.
So, Who Do You Ask?
A physiotherapist skilled in airway clearance techniques. Some specialise in this area and might be called ‘respiratory’ or ‘cardiorespiratory’ physiotherapists. They could also say they specialise in ‘pulmonary’ which
is another word for lungs. You might need to ask your doctor, nurse, or health worker to help you find someone who can help you in your local area. Or contact the Australian Physiotherapy Association at choose.physio/find-a-physico.
Huffing is probably the most effective airway clearance technique. It forms part of most airway clearance exercises. Huffing helps move phlegm from the smaller to the larger airways towards the mouth. Then you can clear it more easily with a cough.
How to Practice:
Before you start: If huffing in the morning, make sure you take any morning asthma medicines first. If you choose to huff at night, make sure you take any evening asthma medicines first.
Take a medium breath in
breathe out through an open “O” shaped mouth with a mild-moderate force, keeping your mouth open.
The breath you use when fogging up a mirror keeps your throat open. You may like to practice in front of the mirror the first few times.
Don’t use too much force – trying to huff out too quickly and forcefully can collapse the airway.
Use your stomach muscles to help squeeze the air out without causing a wheeze or cough.
If you hear a wheeze on the breath out then the breath is too forced and you may need to breathe out slower.
Repeat the huff two more times and then follow with one strong cough to clear mucus from larger airways.
Always do some relaxed, slow breathing after huffing to help the airways relax.