Woodwind instruments and asthma - what are the health benefits?

What are the links between playing woodwind instruments and the potential positive benefit on asthma in children and in adults?

As asthma is such a widespread – and potentially disabling – medical condition in the UK, there is constant research into ways to manage and improve its impact. This includes studies into everyday activities that help alleviate symptoms and improve respiratory functioning, like playing wind instruments!

According to Asthma UK, of the 5.4 million people currently receiving treatment for the condition, one in eleven of those are children. That’s well over a million youngsters who need medicine or therapies to improve their breathing.

It is, of course, life-threatening. So, anything that can improve the way children and adults live with asthma warrants further investigation.

The health benefits of woodwind instruments

Let’s start with the un-refuted fact that music can be therapeutic and a great source of social interaction and stress relief.

If children or adults enjoy learning to play a woodwind instrument, it helps them to relax, boosting their mental health and a general sense of wellbeing. All of this can play a role in making it easier to live with asthma. If you suffer from mild or even moderate asthma, there are other ways that playing a woodwind instrument can be helpful too. This type of ability relies on control of breathing and exercising your pulmonary system.

Asthma is largely concerned with having a hypersensitive respiratory system. Various pollutants or exercise, for example, trigger a reaction which causes the person’s airways to become inflamed, covered in mucus, or narrower. The various triggers and manifestations of asthma all result in difficulty in breathing.

Though there is no unequivocal scientific proof yet, there is a widespread view that learning to play a woodwind instrument can be helpful. There is certainly no evidence that it would worsen the condition or trigger an attack in most children and adults with milder forms. One of the best ways to self-manage asthma is to carry out breathing exercises and learning a wind instrument can be a highly enjoyable way of doing this!

To play, the person with asthma would have to vary the strength of their ‘blowing’ and control the way they breathe. This serves to strengthen lungs and generally give their respiratory system a wood ‘work out

Is one instrument better than another for asthma?

The woodwind and brass category of musical instruments includes a wide range of options. Is one better than another, for someone with asthma? The average person with the condition can take on any of the options with minimal risk. If the first choice of instrument proves challenging and leads to concerns, moving on to one with less air resistance is a great idea.

Playing the trumpet, horn or oboe does need the person to expel lots of pressurised air. However, the interplay of taking deep breaths then blowing can help train and build respiratory functioning. If you opt for a flute or trombone, the resistance factor is less, making it easier for some asthma sufferers to play these particular instruments.

Careful experimentation under supervision is often the best way forward, to find the right comfort level and degree of challenge for each musical instrument ‘rookie’!

Alleviating concerns

This is not a quick fix or even a long-term solution but learning a woodwind instrument may help people to live with asthma. If nothing else, it will certainly provide a pleasurable distraction.

It’s important to note that professional medical advice should be sought, to ensure that you or your child would benefit from learning to play a woodwind instrument if your asthma is relatively severe.