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Case Study Issue 104: Buteyko Treatment for Asthma

by Janet Brindley(more info)

listed in asthma, originally published in issue 104 - October 2004

Kelly, a girl 19 years of age, had suffered with asthma since childhood. Her main problems occurred when she was running or playing sport. She had also experienced bad asthma attacks occasionally, often associated with a viral infection, when she needed to take a course of steroids. Kelly, at 19, was playing competition netball and finding that her breathing was becoming totally out of control, so much so that she often needed to take up to 20 puffs of her inhaler to keep going during netball rallies.

Treatment Protocol and Strategy Used

Buteyko (pronounced Bu-tay-ko) is most commonly used as a treatment for those with asthma and other breathing disorders.

It was developed in Russia in the 1950s by a Russian doctor called Konstantin Buteyko, from whom the technique gets its name. In 1981 the Russian authorities officially recognized the method as beneficial and approved it for use as a treatment for asthma throughout the former Soviet Union. Several clinical trials have now been published showing positive results, most recently in the New Zealand Medical Journal.[1]

Buteyko practitioners work as teachers, guiding people through learning the breathing exercises and giving advice on how best to manage their condition. It is a self-help technique which involves regular practice of specific breathing exercises, a patient following a standard course would be asked to practise three times a day for five weeks.

The breathing techniques themselves are not physically demanding. In fact, the majority of the programme is carried out sitting comfortably in a chair. However, it is usual for practitioners to focus on physical fitness as well and most will encourage their clients to take some form of regular daily exercise.

Most people with asthma recognize that stress and emotion can play a part in bringing on an attack; therefore, learning to relax effectively forms an important part of Buteyko training. Finally most practitioners advise on useful changes to the diet to assist in restoring normal respiratory function as far as possible.

Kelly wanted to learn the Buteyko breathing techniques as she had heard they could help to control asthma symptoms. When she started her five-week Buteyko course Kelly mostly breathed through her mouth; her Control Pause (how long she easily held her breath after breathing out) was 15 seconds. This is used as a measure of progress in asthmatic patients.

During the first lesson I started to teach Kelly breathing techniques which would enable her to breathe through her nose, plus simple slow breathing techniques to help her understand her own pattern of breathing. Over the next four weeks we gradually introduced advanced breathing exercises and focussed on techniques to help her breath properly while she was exercising. We also covered topics such as how best to use inhalers and what to do should she catch a cold.

Results and Outcome of the Treatment

Kelly was keen to improve her breathing and practised her exercises diligently. Within two weeks she no longer needed her inhaler, even when she was training at the gym. Three weeks into the programme she described herself as feeling "Brilliant". By the end of the course Kelly had made excellent progress and felt she had complete control of her own breathing, at a five hour netball rally the previous weekend she had used no inhaler. Kelly's Control Pause had increased to over 40 seconds.

I saw Kelly a year later (not as a patient) and asked her how she was getting on. She said that she was feeling great and that Buteyko had changed her life. She had not needed any steroid courses and used almost no inhaler.

I asked her whether she ever needed to practise the breathing exercises. She said "Sometimes I get a bit short of breath, but I know how to sort it out, I just stop breathing for a while – it's like yawning with your mouth shut!"


1 McHugh P et al. Buteyko Breathing Technique for asthma: an effective intervention. New Zealand Medical Journal. 116(1187): 2003. Copies may be purchased from the Buteyko Breathing Association 01277 364724.


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About Janet Brindley

Janet Brindley MBBA BSc(Hons) BWY (Dip) and Dr James Oliver (a practising General Practitioner) run Buteyko teacher training courses for health professionals. A free 2005 prospectus is available on request. She can be contacted on Tel: 01277 364724; Fax: 01277 364724; www.buteyko.btinternet/practice

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