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The New Zealand Medical Journal

 Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 19-May-2006, Vol 119 No 1234

Buteyko breathing technique and asthma in children: a case series
Asthma is a common disorder in New Zealand, with estimates of prevalence as high as one in six of the population affected.1 The annual cost of asthma drugs is high—in 2005, approximately NZ$34 million was spent on inhaled corticosteroids and β2-agonists.2
The use of β2-agonist in chronic asthma is itself contentious, with a recent meta-analysis concluding that regular use of β2-agonist resulted in tolerance within 1–3 weeks as well as being pro-inflammatory to the airways.3 Interventions that have the potential to reduce β2-agonist insult to the airways of people with chronic asthma are deserving of further investigation.
The Buteyko breathing technique (BBT) is an intervention for asthma that is associated with significant reductions in medication use as well as improvements in other indices such as symptom scores and quality of life in adults.4–7
Previous work demonstrates the effectiveness of BBT in adults.4,6 To date, there has been no published work looking at the impact in children.
We report a case series that considers the place of BBT in children.


To find suitable participants (Table 1), we approached local general practices and advertised in the local (Gisborne) newspaper. Twenty-six children were identified of whom 8 (aged 7–16 years) were eligible for inclusion; being previously diagnosed with asthma by their GP and using medication for asthma for at least 6 months with significant use of medication for asthma in the 2 weeks prior; no prior instruction in BBT; and no significant unstable medical condition.


Participants underwent training in BBT (by a representative of the Buteyko Institute of Breathing and Health) over five sessions of 60–90 minutes held over 5 consecutive days. BBT consists of a series of exercises promoting nasal breathing and periods of hypoventilation.8

Outcome measures

Prior to tuition, and at 3 months following instruction in BBT, participants (along with their parent/guardian) self completed a questionnaire ascertaining:
  • Medication use over the previous 2 weeks;
  • Symptom scores over the previous 2 weeks;
  • Courses of oral steroids over the previous 3 months; and
  • Absences from school due to asthma over the previous 3 months and admissions to hospital over the previous 3 months.
At 3 months, participants were also asked whether BBT had been helpful or not in the management of their asthma. Any changes in medication after instruction were to be in association with their own general practitioner.


Table 1. Characteristics of participants at end of run-in
BBT Group
Gender (male : females)
Mean age (range) in years
Ethnicity (European : Maori)
Mean years with asthma (range)
Mean daily adjusted β2-agonist dose in mcg equiv salbutamol (standard deviation)
Mean daily adjusted inhaled steroid dose in mcg equiv fluticasone (standard deviation)
4 : 4
11.1 (8–14)
4 : 4
7.5 (4–12)
742 (624)
137 (119)
BBT=Buteyko breathing technique.

Changes in medication use

Average β2-agonist use reduced from 743 mEq of salbutamol per day to 254 mEq/day, a drop of 66%. Inhaled steroid use reduced from 138 mEq of fluticasone per day to 81 mEq/day, a drop of 41% (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Medication use (mEq) by participants before and after training in Buteyko breathing technique

Qualitative measures

There were no admissions to hospital in the 3 months before or after instruction in BBT for any of the participants. In the 3 months prior to instruction in BBT, 8 days of school were missed by three participants. There were 4 days missed by two participants in the 3 months after BBT tuition. The post-instruction period of 3 months did, however, include 6 weeks of school holidays.
In the 3 months prior to tuition in BBT, three participants had 11 courses of oral steroids, and in the 3 months post-tuition, one participant had one course of oral steroids. Average symptom scores in the 3 months before tuition in BBT went from 1.5 to 0.875 in the 3 months post-tuition (where 0=no symptoms, 1=mild, 2=moderate, and 3=severe).
Of the eight participants, one reported “no change” in his/her asthma, six reported “slightly improved”, and one reported “markedly improved”. There were no reports of “slightly deteriorated” or “marked deteriorated”.


There have been several published randomised controlled trials involving the use of BBT in adults with asthma.4,6,7 These trials have all shown positive results with marked reductions in inhaled β2-agonist along with reductions in inhaled corticosteroids without negative impact on measures of lung function and with no apparent adverse effect. There is, however, no data for BBT in a paediatric setting.
In this study we used accepted diagnostic criteria for asthma.9 We recognise that this has the potential to include a broad group, including dysfunctional breathing.10
In this series, we have identified that BBT is associated with change in medication in children that mirrors results found in adults (Table 2).
Table 2. Comparison of medication reductions in BBT trials to date

This series
Beta-agonist reduction
Inhaled steroid reduction
95% *
100% *
41.5% **
BBT=Buteyko breathing technique; *Results are reported as mean unless marked with * in which case are median; **Nottingham did not attempt reductions in inhaled steroid use until assessment of airways hyper-reactivity was finished.
In addition to reduction in medication there were improvements in measures of quality of life scores, symptom scores, and also a reduced number of courses of oral steroids.
The small size and self-selection of the patient group in this case series limits any more meaningful commentary on the results.
However given the association between BBT and medication reduction in this group of children, and the similarity with adults, we suggest that BBT would merit exploration by a randomised controlled trial in children. In addition, we agree with a recent review of BBT which states that further research is necessary to establish whether BBT is effective, and if so, how it may work.11
Acknowledgements: This study was funded by grants from the JN Williams Memorial Trust and The Tairawhiti Complementary and Traditional Therapies Research Trust. We also thank BIBH for providing an instructor (Russell and Jennifer Stark) and teaching the BBT as well as the GPs and practice nurses for participating in the study.
Patrick McHugh
Clinical Director, Emergency Department
Gisborne Hospital, Gisborne
Bruce Duncan
Public Health Physician
Tairawhiti District Health, Gisborne
Frank Houghton
Assistant Lecturer (and Health Geographer), Department of Humanities
Limerick Institute of Technology, Limerick, Ireland
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  8. Buteyko Method: Butyeko Institute of Breathing and Health, Manuka, Australia. Available online. URL: Accessed May 2006.
  9. Holt S, Kljakovic M, Reid J; POMS Steering Committee. Asthma morbidity, control and treatment in New Zealand: results of the Patient Outcomes Management Survey (POMS), 2001. N Z Med J. 2003;116(1174). URL:
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  11. Bruton A, Lewith GT. The Buteyko breathing technique for asthma: a review. Complement Ther Med. 2005;13:41–6.
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