Should You Try Alternative Asthma Treatment?

If you have asthma, you are probably familiar with the chest tightness, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath that accompany an asthma attack.

While you may use medication such as a bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory medication or biologic therapy to manage your asthma, you may also have considered natural asthma treatments.

And that may mean you turn to complementary and alternative medicine. Alternative treatments are often used alone, while complementary treatments are used along with traditional 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 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 remedies for asthma

You may be looking for a natural remedy for asthma or wondering how to treat asthma naturally. There are many complementary and alternative treatments that claim to treat asthma. But since there are few or no research studies on most of them, the effectiveness and safety of many are unknown. Dr. shared Pennington’s take on some alternative remedies.

Herbs and vitamins

Can you use herbs for asthma?

It is believed that certain 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 for many years as a bronchodilator. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned ephedra. Some studies have also shown that vitamin C and vitamin D improve asthma symptoms.

Studies are mixed on whether vitamin D helps or not, says Dr. Pennington.

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, used to reduce inflammation in the lungs, may cause bleeding problems in people who also take the blood thinner warfarin. Licorice root, used to soothe the lungs of asthmatics, can raise blood pressure. Ephedra has been used as a bronchodilator but has also been linked to some unexplained deaths.

Most people think that herbs for asthma are safe to take. But many herbs have not been thoroughly tested and are not regulated by the FDA. This means that the purity and quantity of the herb in each dose and, therefore, its safety cannot be guaranteed.

Dr. stressed Pennington that it is very important that you always let your doctor know if you are taking any herbs or dietary supplements. Some herbs can make your asthma or other medical conditions worse, or they can interfere with prescription drugs you take.


Breathing exercises used in yoga have been found to help some people control breathing and relieve stress, a common trigger of asthma.

Current research doesn’t prove that yoga alleviates asthma symptoms, but if someone with asthma feels that yoga helps them feel and breathe better, there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue doing it.

Yoga teaches you how to coordinate your breathing pattern with your movement and can help relieve stress, shares Dr. Pennington. Both of these things can help your asthma symptoms.


During acupuncture, very thin needles are inserted into specific points on your skin to stimulate the area and help relieve pain.

There are some reports that traditional Chinese medicine can help treat asthma, but this has not been proven.

There are some small studies that show that acupuncture can help with a chronic cough, says Dr. Pennington. Acupuncture may help relieve asthma symptoms when used along with other prescribed treatments but there is little research to support its use as a primary treatment for asthma.


During biofeedback, you will learn how to change the way your body works.

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 physiological signals.

This may include a change in your breathing. Learning to increase the amount of air inhaled has reduced fear and anxiety during asthma attacks for some asthmatics.

Biofeedback can help reduce anxiety and stress, adds Dr. Pennington.

Management of asthma

While alternative or holistic asthma treatments may not provide you with any relief, Dr. Pennington says the best thing you can do is avoid asthma triggers like:

  • Air pollution.
  • dust
  • Exercise.
  • mold.
  • Pests.
  • Pets.
  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Strong chemicals or smells.
  • Some occupational exposures.

It is important that you try to keep your house dust and mold free. You may also need to keep your windows closed to prevent air pollution and dust mites from entering.

In addition to avoiding your asthma triggers, your healthcare provider may recommend medications such as a rescue inhaler that you should use during an asthma attack.

Your health care provider may also suggest that you create an asthma action plan. This plan serves as a tool for you, your caregivers and your health care providers. It provides a step-by-step plan to help prevent asthma attacks from becoming too severe.

An asthma action plan can include things like how often you should use inhalers or take oral steroids and when to call your doctor’s office, explains Dr. Pennington.

Bottom line?

When it comes to natural asthma relief, since most alternative and complementary treatments are not regulated, it’s hard to know what you’re getting.

Here are some tips to follow when considering using alternative treatments:

  • Talk to your doctor about any herbal products you are considering before trying them.
  • If you experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fast heart rate, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea or skin rashes, stop taking the herbal product and notify your provider.
  • Avoid preparations made with more than one herb.
  • Beware of commercial claims of what herbal products can do. Find scientifically based sources of information.
  • Choose brands carefully. Buy only brands that list the herbs’ common and scientific names, the manufacturer’s name and address, batch and lot numbers, expiration dates, dosage guidelines and potential side effects.

Any asthma treatment plan should start with medications that have been extensively tested and shown to be effective for asthma management, insists Dr. Pennington. Alternative treatments can be helpful as add-on therapy, but you should discuss any alternative treatment with your doctor before starting it.

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