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‘Opera Breathe’ Programme Helps Improve Well-Being of Long-COVID Patients

The online programme has been developed by English National Opera along with Imperial College, London, Healthcare NHS Trust.
Opera Breathe programme developed by English National Opera

Image Courtesy: English National Opera website

Did you know opera singing, rather breathing, is related to healing or well-being of COVID-19 patients? Its appears so, as there have been several instances when professional singers provided breathing training to patients of long COVID, and significantly brought down their suffering. 

A recently published research in Lancet reported that a breathing programme using singing techniques can significantly improve the well-being of people suffering from long COVID, especially breathlessness. The first clinical trial of this creative approach has been reported in a Lancet paper. 

The programme has been developed by the ENO (English National Opera) combined with Imperial College, London, Healthcare NHS Trust. The programme was led by professional singers from ENO and mainly focused on breathing retraining by applying the techniques of opera singing. Importantly, it used lullabies as the musical starting point. The researchers claimed that interest or experience in singing was not a prerequisite. 

The trial incorporated 150 persons who had suffered breathlessness for an average period of 320 days since COVID symptoms started. The trial found that patients who took part in the programme experienced a reduction of around 10.48 points (out of 100) in breathlessness in comparison to those who were continuing with only the usual care. The point score was defined by the researchers and was used to quantify the impact. Along with this, the researchers also found a 2.42-point improvement in the mental wellness of the long COVID participants.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Keir Philip, a clinical research fellow at the National Heart and Lung Institute of Imperial College, commenting on the findings of the trial said: “ Our study suggests that the improvements in symptoms experienced by participants, resulted from both practical breathing techniques learnt. It suggests that arts-in-health interventions can be effective tools for carefully selected participants, especially when successfully integrated with clinical services.”

The ENO breathe programme involved doctors from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and aims at improving the wellbeing of patients who have been experiencing persistent breathlessness due to long-COVID. The programme is free for people residing in London and elsewhere in England since September 2020.

The entire programme spans six weeks and is delivered online. It starts with a one-to-one session followed by a once-weekly group session along with other online resources throughout the programme. Reportedly, over 1,000 people have accessed it online so far.

The researcher also found that participants who attended all the sessions saw improvement in a broad range of respiratory problems along with anxiety and also saw an overall improvement in quality of life.

Around 40% of the participants attending all the sessions achieved a 5 point improvement in the mental component in comparison to 17% of those who received the usual care.

Explaining the importance of a social programme to show its impact on clinical paradigms, James Sanderson, chief executive of NASP (National Academy for Social Prescribing), commented :“ It is exciting to see clinical evidence published which demonstrates the effectiveness of a social prescribing programme--ENO’s ‘Breathe’ classes are improving the lives of hundreds of people living with long COVID.”

The study divided the participants into two groups—one contained 74 people who took part in the six-week ENO programme and the other consisting of 76 people as control group who were on their usual care. However, after six weeks the control group were also offered to take part in the ENO programme.

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