If you have asthma, you’re probably familiar with the chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath that comes with an asthma attack.
While you may use medications such as bronchodilators, anti-inflammatory medications, or biologic therapies to manage your asthma, you may also have considered natural asthma treatments.
And that may mean you’re turning to complementary and alternative medicines. Alternative treatments are often used alone, while complementary therapies are used in combination with conventional treatments prescribed by your doctor.
Complementary or alternative asthma treatment options may include herbs, dietary supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, massage therapy, and biofeedback.
But do any of these asthma treatments actually work?
Pulmonologist Emily Pennington, MD, shares what we know about home remedies for asthma, whether you should try any of these natural remedies, and what else you can do to manage your asthma.
Alternative treatments for asthma
You may be looking for a natural cure for asthma or wondering how to cure asthma naturally. There are many complementary and alternative treatments that claim to treat asthma. But since there have been little or no research studies on most of them, the effectiveness and safety of many is unknown. Dr. Pennington shares his insights on some alternative treatments.
Herbs and Vitamins
Can you use herbs for asthma?
It is believed that some Chinese herbs, such as Ding-Chan Tang (DCT), can reduce inflammation and relieve bronchospasm. Ma Huang (Ephedra), a common herb used in dietary supplements, has been used as a bronchodilator for years. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned ephedra. Some studies have also shown that vitamin C and vitamin D improve asthma symptoms.
Dr. Pennington says studies have been mixed on whether vitamin D is beneficial.
It is also important to note that some herbs used to treat asthma have been found to interact with other medications. For example, gingko biloba, which is used to reduce inflammation in the lungs, may cause bleeding problems in people who are also taking the blood-thinning drug warfarin. Liquorice root, used to relax the lungs of asthma patients, may increase blood pressure. Ephedra has been used as a bronchodilator but has also been linked to some unexplained deaths.
Most people think that taking herbal remedies for asthma is safe. But many herbicides have not been thoroughly tested and the FDA does not regulate them. This means that the purity and quantity of the herb in each dosage and, therefore, its safety, cannot be guaranteed.
Dr. Pennington emphasizes that it is very important to always inform your doctor if you are taking any herbs or dietary supplements. Some herbs may worsen your asthma or other medical conditions, or they may interfere with prescribed medications you are taking.
The breathing exercises used in yoga have been found to help some people control breathing and relieve stress, a common cause of asthma.
Current research does not prove that yoga reduces asthma symptoms, but if someone with asthma finds that yoga helps them feel and breathe better, there is no reason why they should not practice it. Should not continue.
Yoga teaches you how to coordinate your breathing with your movement and can help relieve stress, Dr. Pennington shares. Both of these things can potentially help your asthma symptoms.
During acupuncture, very thin needles are inserted into specific points in your skin to stimulate the area and help relieve pain.
There are some reports that this traditional form of Chinese medicine may help treat asthma, but this has not been proven.
There are some small studies that show acupuncture can help chronic cough, says Dr. Pennington. Acupuncture may help reduce asthma symptoms when used with other prescribed treatments but there is little research to support using it as a primary treatment for asthma.
During biofeedback, you learn how to change the way your body functions.
During a session with a healthcare provider, you wear painless sensors that measure things like your breathing, heart rate, and brain activity. Based on your results, your healthcare provider will suggest ways to change those physical signs.
This may include changes in your breathing. Learning how to increase the amount of air inhaled has reduced fear and anxiety during an asthma attack for some asthma patients.
Biofeedback can help reduce anxiety and stress, says Dr. Pennington.
management of asthma
Although alternative or holistic asthma treatments may not give you any relief, Dr. Pennington says the best thing you can do is avoid asthma triggers such as:
- air pollution.
- dust particles.
- domestic animal.
- Tobacco smoke.
- Strong chemicals or odors.
- Some occupational risks.
It is important that you try to keep your home free from dust and mold. You may also need to keep your windows closed to prevent air pollution and dust particles from entering.
In addition to avoiding your asthma triggers, your healthcare provider may recommend medications such as rescue inhalers that you should use during an asthma attack.
Your healthcare provider may also suggest that you come up with an asthma action plan. This plan serves as a tool for you, your caregivers, and your healthcare providers. It provides a step-by-step plan to help prevent asthma attacks from becoming too severe.
Dr. Pennington explains that an asthma action plan can include things like how often you should use an inhaler or take oral steroids and when to call your doctor’s office.
When it comes to natural asthma relief, because most alternative and complementary treatments are not regulated, it can be difficult to know what you are getting.
Here are some tips to follow when considering using alternative treatments:
- Talk to your doctor before trying any herbal products you are considering.
- If you experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fast heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, or skin rash, stop taking the herbal product and notify your provider.
- Avoid preparations made from more than one herb.
- Be wary of commercial claims about what herbal products can do. Look for scientifically-based sources of information.
- Choose the brand carefully. Buy only brands that list the herb’s common and scientific name, manufacturer’s name and address, batch and lot number, expiration date, dosage guidelines, and possible side effects.
Any asthma treatment plan should start with medications that have been extensively tested and proven to be effective for managing asthma, Dr. Pennington emphasizes. Alternative treatments may be helpful as add-on therapy, but you should discuss any alternative treatment with your doctor before starting it.
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