Music and asthma

Lots of people with asthma tell us that music helps them manage their symptoms better

Asthma needn’t stop you doing the things you love. And we’ve heard from lots of people that singing or playing an instrument, particularly a brass or woodwind instrument, actually makes a positive difference to their asthma.

Does making music help control asthma?

The scientific evidence is unclear for now – studies can’t yet prove that it improves the way your lungs work or helps you breathe better. But lots of people with asthma say that singing or playing a musical instrument helps them to be more aware of their breathing and improves their posture. And if you find that stress triggers your asthma symptoms, the release you get from belting out tunes or spending time with other musical people could mean you feel calmer and more in control, which may mean you’re less likely to have an asthma attack.

What could I play?

It’s up to you! A few musicians who have asthma tell us what worked for them…

  • Dougie McCance, bagpiper: “For the last six years, I have been touring with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. We travel worldwide and perform high-energy shows up to two hours long. If piping didn’t help my asthma, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue the career of my dreams. I feel great now! I would highly recommend learning a woodwind instrument to someone with asthma, particularly the bagpipes. The time and effort you commit will pay off very soon.”
  • Nick Hannah, harmonica player: “My asthma medicines have never affected my playing – the main difference I noticed was when I gave up smoking. I play every day for at least 20 minutes, and at gigs I do two hours virtually non stop. My breathing gets better the longer I play. I would say to anybody: Try playing the harmonica. It's small and relatively cheap, and it sounds great!”
  • Chloe Jones, flautist: “I started playing the flute aged seven because my doctor said it might help my breathing. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without music. As well as feeling so much better in my asthma control, music has given such a boost to my self-confidence.”
  • Peter Naylor, sings in a soul choir: “I’ve seen a big improvement in my singing ability in the last six years. I started off in the background and by our latest concert I was asked to sing a solo in ‘Let It Be’. It’s definitely helped with my breathing too – mostly because it’s just such an upbeat thing to do. My asthma gets worse when I’m stressed or anxious, so having something fun to take my mind off it is helpful.”
  • Alex Kapranos, lead singer with Franz Ferdinand: “Sometimes when I’m on stage I’ll feel my chest tightening – I’ve used my inhaler on stage a few times – but in a way I feel I’ve actually got quite strong lungs because of the asthma. When I’m not having any symptoms they’re really powerful!”
  • Shamil Tailor: "I have recently started playing the bansuri, which is an Indian classical flute made out of bamboo. I also sing at my local temple and believe it has improved my breathing."

Will playing an instrument set off my asthma?

If you haven’t played an instrument before, or for a long time, you might feel nervous about doing something that changes your breathing patterns. But if you find that singing or playing music triggers your symptoms, it could be a sign that your asthma isn’t as well managed as it should be. Your GP or asthma nurse can suggest ways to make sure you don’t miss out – by tweaking your inhaler technique or making a small change to your medicines, for example.

It’s good practice not to share your instrument with anyone else and to keep it clean of the saliva, dust and grime that can build up inside it anyway, but if colds and viruses trigger your asthma, it’s even more important.

Will asthma medicines affect my singing voice?

No matter how long you've been using your inhaler, they can be tricky to use. But using them incorrectly means the medicine hits the back of your throat or tongue rather than being inhaled into your lungs where it’s needed, which can make your voice sound temporarily more hoarse than usual.

To avoid this, check your inhaler technique with a GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist - it might only take a tiny tweak to solve the problem. And if you brush your teeth and rinse out your mouth thoroughly each time you use your inhaler that can help, too.

Still feeling unsure? Give our friendly asthma nurse specialists a call on 0300 222 5800 (Mon to Fri; 9am to 5pm).

How can I get started?

  • Search online for local choirs, or community singing groups, which are open to people without any experience. Your local GP surgery or hospital may also run a choir for people with lung conditions. And you could also check if there’s a British Lung Foundation Singing for Health group near you.
  • If you’re not sure which instrument is for you, ask a local tutor for a taster session. They may also be able to arrange hire of an instrument so you don’t have to buy straight away.
  • Before you arrive (or whenever seems appropriate), explain to the conductor or teacher that you have asthma and what you will need to do if you have symptoms during the lesson. Even if you feel well, they may suggest places you can take an extra breath if you need to.
  • Remember to take your reliever inhaler and asthma action plan to your lesson or rehearsal. You could even keep a copy of the action plan in your instrument case.
  • Enjoy making music! And if you find your asthma control is getting better, let us know – we’d love to hear from you.

Last updated August 2016

Next review due August 2019