Chronic breathlessness is a neglected symptom of advanced diseases.
To examine the effect of airflow for chronic breathlessness relief.
Exploratory systematic review and meta-analysis.
Medline, CINAHL, AMED and Cochrane databases were searched (1985–2018) for observational studies or randomised controlled trials of airflow as intervention or comparator. Selection against predefined inclusion criteria, quality appraisal and data extraction was conducted by two independent reviewers with access to a third for unresolved differences. ‘Before and after’ breathlessness measures from airflow arms were analysed. Meta-analysis was carried out where possible.
In all, 16 of 78 studies (n = 929) were included: 11 randomised controlled trials of oxygen versus medical air, 4 randomised controlled trials and 1 fan cohort study. Three meta-analyses were possible: (1) Fan at rest in three studies (n = 111) offered significant benefit for breathlessness intensity (0–100 mm visual analogue scale and 0–10 numerical rating scale), mean difference −11.17 (95% confidence intervals (CI) −16.60 to −5.74), p = 0.06 I2 64%. (2) Medical air via nasal cannulae at rest in two studies (n = 89) improved breathlessness intensity (visual analogue scale), mean difference −12.0 mm, 95% CI −7.4 to −16.6, p