The results of a clinical trial reveal that asthma patients experiencing symptoms had fewer symptoms and healthier lung function when they habitually resisted the urge to take deep breaths.

Principal investigators of the study Thomas Ritz and Alicia E. Meuret believe the results suggest asthma patients using behavioral therapy in conjunction with their daily asthma medicine can improve their lung health over the long-term, according to a Southern Methodist University news release. The researchers also state that asthma patients may possibly reduce their dependence on emergency medications, such as rescue inhalers.

For the study, one group of asthma patients used biofeedback to monitor their breathing for reassurance they were getting sufficient oxygen. The patients practiced shorter, shallower breaths to increase their intake of carbon dioxide, or CO2, while a second group also practiced slower breathing without the biofeedback. Ritz explains, “This study goes to the heart of hyperventilation — which is deep, rapid breathing that causes a drop in CO2 gas in the blood. That makes a person feel dizzy and short of breath.”

The Southern Methodist University news release notes that asthma attacks commonly provoke sufferers to gulp air and take deep breaths, and sufferers tend to breathe too much, even when not experiencing symptoms. The researchers, however, explain that deep breathing is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Ritz says, “Patients in our study increased CO2 and reduced their symptoms. And over a six-month period we saw in the biofeedback group an actual improvement in the physiology of their lungs. Controlling asthma by training of capnometry-assisted hypoventilation vs. slow breathing.”

Source: Southern Methodist University