Asthma: Complementary and Alternative Therapies

by Cathy Wong

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects at least 24 million people in the United States. Symptoms of asthma include episodes of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and increased mucus production. Genetics, allergy, environment, infection, emotions, and nutrition all play a role in this disease, which causes inflammation of the airways of the lung.

Complementary and alternative therapies are often used by people with asthma.

The most common reasons why people try alternative and complementary therapies are dissatisfaction with conventional therapies and concerns about steroid side-effects.

In a survey of 48 multicultural parents of children with asthma, 81% of the parents used one or more forms of alternative or complementary therapy to treat their child’s asthma. These therapies included prayer, herbal teas, vitamins, supplements, and massage. African-American parents were more likely to rely on prayer, and Hispanic parents were more likely to use herbal and massage therapies.

Other popular treatments include the antioxidants vitamins C and E, selenium, and zinc. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and other supplements such as the herb Petasites hybridus are also used to decrease inflammation.

What does the research tell us?

Are any therapies potentially harmful?

People with asthma should always consult a licensed health care practitioner before trying any alternative or complementary therapy. Improper use of some therapies can trigger episodes and result in serious injury.

In addition, some herbal remedies, such as lobelia and pennyroyal, are potentially toxic. Medical histories for all patients should include inquiries into the use of alternative therapies.

Other preventative measures

Patients with asthma should be considered for allergy testing and aggressive environmental control measures:


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