Breathing exercises help asthma patients with quality of life – first PSP research study funded by the NIHR HTA Programme announces its results

Published: 14 December 2017

The first JLA PSP to announce its Top 10 priorities for future research was in Asthma in March 2007.  One of the questions that patients, carers and health professionals jointly agreed that they wanted future research to tell us more about was “What are the benefits of breathing exercises as a form of physical therapy for asthma?”

This priority led a study team to investigate the effectiveness of breathing retraining exercises taught by a physiotherapist either by instructional DVD or in face-to-face sessions in the management of asthma in adults.  This study has become the first one funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme against a PSP priority to publish its results.  The study, called ‘BREATHE’ found that people who continue to get problems from their asthma, despite receiving standard treatment, experience an improved quality of life when they are taught breathing exercises.

“Professor Hywel Williams, director of the NIHR’s Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme, said: “We are delighted to have funded this study in an area of research that is important to the public and medical professionals.

“The need for more research into the possible benefits of breathing exercises as a physical therapy for asthma was identified by the James Lind Alliance (JLA) after patients, carers and clinicians highlighted it among their top 10 questions for research into asthma.

“Asthma is a condition which affects millions of people in the UK. The study has provided valuable information on the benefit of self-taught breathing exercises via DVDs and face-to-face support from physiotherapists in improving patients’ quality of life.”

Researchers also found that the benefits of the breathing exercises were similar, whether they were taught in person by a physiotherapist in three ‘face to face’ sessions, or delivered digitally for use in their own home (in this study via DVD). Their findings are published in a paper in the journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

You can also read more about the results of the study in the NIHR Journals Library.

Professor Stephen Holgate, past Chair of the UK Respiratory Research Collaborative and Steering Group member of the Asthma PSP, said:  “Without this coming together of patients with the research community, catalysed by the JLA, the subject of breathing exercises would never have been identified as one that received so much enthusiastic support.”

Anne Bruton, Co-investigator of the BREATHE study said “It has been a great privilege to be involved in a research project like BREATHE, which had its roots firmly embedded in the wishes and priorities of patients with asthma and their families. We knew from the work of the James Lind Alliance, and our own clinical experience, that breathing techniques were of great interest to people with asthma. We also knew that there were not enough NHS physiotherapists with the specialist skills needed to teach these techniques. BREATHE was developed out of these two key facts – and has resulted in a trial assessing the effect of physiotherapy breathing retraining learned through two different delivery methods – a) face to face with a physio, and b) digitally using a DVD plus booklet at home. We have found that both delivery methods were equally effective for our participants. The interventions were developed iteratively with feedback from patients and clinicians, and this has helped to make sure they are not only effective, but also acceptable, and therefore more likely to be used in practice. We can honestly say that without the input of clinicians, patients and their families, we would not have been able to design, develop, test, and now implement, our new digital intervention.”

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