Asthma treatment: Do complementary and alternative approaches work?

Many people try complementary and alternative asthma treatments ranging from herbs to yoga. Discover which home remedies for asthma are most likely to work.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) asthma treatment ranges from breathing exercises to herbal remedies. Unfortunately, a lack of well-designed clinical trials makes it difficult to assess the safety and efficacy of these treatments. If you're considering CAM treatments for asthma, here's what you should know.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles into your skin at specific points on your body. Some studies suggest that asthma symptoms may improve with acupuncture, but more definitive studies are needed to fully assess the usefulness of acupuncture for treatment of asthma.

If you decide to try acupuncture, work with an experienced, licensed acupuncturist, preferably one who is also a medical doctor.

Breathing exercises

Breathing techniques used for asthma, including the Buteyko breathing technique and yoga breathing (pranayama), are aimed at reducing hyperventilation and regulating breathing. They don't seem to improve the underlying allergic reaction that causes asthma symptoms. In some studies, however, people who did breathing exercises reported improvement in symptoms.

Herbal remedies

Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years to treat lung problems in Asia. Some have shown promise in research, but more studies are needed.

Traditional Chinese, Indian and Japanese medicine usually involves using blends of herbs. Taking certain herbs in combination may be more effective than taking only one herb.

Use caution with herbal remedies and always discuss the use of herbs or dietary supplements with your doctor. Consider these concerns before taking any herbal remedy:

  • Quality and dose. The content of herbal remedies is often not standardized and may vary in quality and potency. Herbal remedies may contain ingredients that aren't listed, and they may contain contaminants.
  • Side effects. Side effects caused by herbal supplements can range from minor to severe, and depend on the herb and the dose you take. Be especially cautious of herbal asthma remedies that contain ephedra or ephedra-like substances, which may cause high blood pressure and have been linked to heart attack and stroke. Examples include ma-huang (banned in the United States) and bitter orange.
  • Drug interactions. Certain herbal remedies can interact with other medications.

These concerns don't necessarily mean trying an herbal treatment is a bad idea — you just need to be careful. Talk to your doctor before taking an herbal remedy to make sure it's safe for you.

Aug. 29, 2014 See more In-depth