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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Breathing training helps ease asthma

A breathing technique developed in the 1960s can reduce asthma symptoms by a third, a trial has finally proved.

But GP experts warned patients could miss out as there was no funding. In the first-ever controlled trial of the Papworth technique, 85 people with mild asthma were randomly assigned to five sessions of treatment with the sequence of breathing and relaxation exercises on top of usual care, or to continue on usual care alone.

Researchers from University College London found patients taught the method scored an average of 21.8 on a respiratory symptom questionnaire, compared with 32.8 in those who had not received the treatment. But the study, published online in Thorax, found no significant improvement in specific measures of lung function.

Lead author Elizabeth Holloway, research physiotherapist at University College London, said the findings suggested the Papworth method did not improve chronic underlying causes of asthma, 'but rather their manifestation'. She said: 'To our knowledge, this is the first evidence from a controlled trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Papworth method.'

Dr Dermot Ryan, a GP in Loughborough and member of the General Practice Airways Group, said the technique could be useful in patients with asthma or dysfunctional breathing. 'There is more to treating asthma than using the drugs available,' he said. 'In selected patients this would be a very useful intervention, if it were available, but there will not be the funding for it.'

Dr Ryan added: 'Not everyone with asthma would benefit from this and it should not be a substitute for drug treatment.'

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