There are few evidence-based interventions for long COVID; however, holistic approaches supporting recovery are advocated. We assessed whether an online breathing and wellbeing programme improves health related quality-of-life (HRQoL) in people with persisting breathlessness following COVID-19.
We conducted a parallel-group, single-blind, randomised controlled trial in patients who had been referred from one of 51 UK-based collaborating long COVID clinics. Eligible participants were aged 18 years or older; were recovering from COVID-19 with ongoing breathlessness, with or without anxiety, at least 4 weeks after symptom onset; had internet access with an appropriate device; and were deemed clinically suitable for participation by one of the collaborating COVID-19 clinics. Following clinical assessment, potential participants were given a unique online portal code. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1) to either immediate participation in the English National Opera (ENO) Breathe programme or to usual care. Randomisation was done by the research team using computer-generated block randomisation lists, with block size 10. The researcher responsible for randomisation was masked to responses. Participants in the ENO Breathe group participated in a 6-week online breathing and wellbeing programme, developed for people with long COVID experiencing breathlessness, focusing on breathing retraining using singing techniques. Those in the deferred group received usual care until they exited the trial. The primary outcome, assessed in the intention-to-treat population, was change in HRQoL, assessed using the RAND 36-item short form survey instrument mental health composite (MHC) and physical health composite (PHC) scores. Secondary outcome measures were the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease assessment test score, visual analogue scales (VAS) for breathlessness, and scores on the dyspnoea-12, the generalised anxiety disorder 7-item scale, and the short form-6D. A thematic analysis exploring participant experience was also conducted using qualitative data from focus groups, survey responses, and email correspondence. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT04830033.
Between April 22 and May 25, 2021, 158 participants were recruited and randomly assigned. Of these, eight (5%) individuals were excluded and 150 participants were allocated to a treatment group (74 in the ENO Breathe group and 76 in the usual care group). Compared with usual care, ENO Breathe was associated with an improvement in MHC score (regression coefficient 2·42 [95% CI 0·03 to 4·80]; p=0·047), but not PHC score (0·60 [-1·33 to 2·52]; p=0·54). VAS for breathlessness (running) favoured ENO Breathe participation (-10·48 [-17·23 to -3·73]; p=0·0026). No other statistically significant between-group differences in secondary outcomes were observed. One minor self-limiting adverse event was reported by a participant in the ENO Breathe group who felt dizzy using a computer for extended periods. Thematic analysis of ENO Breathe participant experience identified three key themes: (1) improvements in symptoms; (2) feeling that the programme was complementary to standard care; and (3) the particular suitability of singing and music to address their needs.
Our findings suggest that an online breathing and wellbeing programme can improve the mental component of HRQoL and elements of breathlessness in people with persisting symptoms after COVID-19. Mind-body and music-based approaches, including practical, enjoyable, symptom-management techniques might have a role supporting recovery.
Imperial College London.

Copyright © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access article under the CC BY 4.0 license. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.