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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 23:35 GMT 00:35 UK
Simple treatment for asthma
Child using  inhaler
Asthma particularly affects children
Some asthma patients could improve their condition and reduce their dependence on drugs simply by doing breathing exercises, a doctor says.

Research by Dr Mike Thomas, a GP based at a small rural practice in Gloucestershire, suggests that a significant proportion of people with asthma have abnormal breathing patterns.

This can include hyperventilation and breathlessness.

Dr Thomas examined 219 asthma patients at his surgery near Stroud. He found that about 33% of women and 20% of men with asthma showed signs of dysfunctional breathing.

If the patients are being given higher doses of drugs than necessary because of the complications of asthma then it's wasting money and medicine

Dr Mike Thomas
He said: "The study raises the possibility that there is quite a large scale problem that has not been recognised.

"People with asthma may slip into bad breathing habits.

"We wanted to show these patients that they may be able to improve the condition with breathing training.

"If the patients are being given higher doses of drugs than necessary because of the complications of asthma then it's wasting money and medicine.

"I'm not saying patients should give up drugs but if we can identify patients to try out breathing techniques, then it could be beneficial."

Cautious welcome

The National Asthma Campaign (NAC) has given the survey findings a cautious welcome.

Dr. Martyn Partridge, chief medical adviser for the NAC said: "Whilst the results are interesting it is very important that we are careful not to apply these results to those with asthma in general.

"Clearly correct diagnosis is of vital importance and it is not surprising in a condition associated with breathlessness that some people have some anxiety associated with that."

Elderly patient using an inhaler
The treatment will not suit everyone

Research is now being carried out on asthma patients at the Stroud surgery who have undergone a breathing re-training programme.

The results will not be published until August, but early indications are described as "exciting" by Dr Thomas.

He said: "The treatment won't work for everyone, but I have seen many cases where patients who were on high doses of drugs went through breathing re-training and they reduced their dependence on those drugs."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 100 to 150 million people around the world are asthmatic and the number is growing by 50% every decade.

Asthma causes 180,000 deaths a year.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

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