Alternative Therapies For Asthma

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Harvard Medical School
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Alternative Therapies For Asthma

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Alternative Therapies For Asthma
Alternative Therapies For Asthma
Some alternative stress-reduction techniques may help you manage the stress that can trigger or worsen attacks.
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Alternative Therapies

Several complementary or alternative therapies may be helpful to you if you have asthma. While they should not substitute for your inhalers or other medications during an asthma attack, they may help reduce the frequency of your symptoms on a day-to-day basis or help to avoid or minimize your symptoms during an asthma attack along with your medications.

While some people try to control asthma with alternative methods such as acupressure, aromatherapy, homeopathy, herbal medicine or Ayurvedic medicine, there is no documented medical evidence that these therapies are a dependable alternative to more conventional treatments.

One focus of alternative and complementary therapies is stress reduction. Stress is a common trigger for many people with asthma. Examples of therapies you can learn and try include:

  • Breathing exercises - Practice this breathing exercise to offset the effects of stress and anxiety and help you to relax if you feel an asthma attack coming on:
    1. Gently and deeply inhale. You should feel your stomach expand as the airflow continues up into your chest. Exhale slowly. You will become more relaxed the longer you exhale. Repeat until you are stress-free.
    2. Place one hand on your chest near your collarbone, and the other on your lower abdomen. Without changing your breathing pattern, simply note how you breathe for a minute or two by watching how your hands move as you breathe in and out.
    Next, concentrate on breathing from your abdomen - so that the hand on your stomach moves more than the one on your chest. This relaxed form of breathing can be continued as long as you like. Keep up this relaxed form breathing for as long as you want. Concentrate on exhaling and relieving tension.
  • Biofeedback - During sessions monitoring your vital signs, you can be taught ways to monitor and control the activity of certain body processes, such as your breathing, to possibly minimize the effects of an asthma attack.
  • The relaxation response - This technique teaches ways to control your body's reaction to stress. The technique includes focusing quietly on your breathing and repeating a prayer, phrase, or sound for 10 to 20 minutes. If practiced every day it can be useful in reducing the frequency of flare-ups and the severity of an asthma attack.
  • Hypnosis - This technique helps you focus your attention, relax, and think calmly. It may help to lessen the severity of an asthma attack.
  • Acupuncture - This method traditionally has been used to treat asthma in China, and increasingly has been used in the United States and other countries. It involves the insertion of very fine needles in certain points on the body called meridians. Although studies of this therapy have not produced enough evidence to make recommendations about its value in asthma treatment, it is considered to be safe in the hands of a licensed practitioner and is widely available.
  • Acupressure (shiatsu) - This technique is similar to acupuncture but uses no needles. It involves applying pressure to certain points on the body for 20 to 30 seconds, two or three times a day. Patients can be taught to do it themselves by an expert shiatsu practitioner.

Asthma patients who participated in a study of "journaling," an activity that might be considered an alternative, stress-relieving therapy, were reported to have significant improvement in lung function four months later, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Other alternative stress-reduction techniques include massage therapy, yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing a muscle or muscle group for about 10 seconds and then releasing the tension. Other ways of reducing stress include exercising regularly, participating in a regular hobby, or just taking some time each day to listen to music or have some "quiet time."

There are also several practical self-help measures that may make you more comfortable and enhance the effectiveness of medical treatment. They include:

  • Stop smoking, if you do, and try not to be around other smoke.
  • Improve indoor air quality with a negative ion generator or air purifier with HEPA filter.
  • Have air ducts and carpets cleaned.
  • Eliminate exposure to mold, dust, and other allergens in your home and workplace as much as possible.
  • Stay inside and use an air conditioner when ozone and pollution levels in the atmosphere are high.
  • Drink lots of water, which thins mucus.
  • Inhale steam from a hot shower or a steam inhaler (add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to the water to aid as a decongestant).
  • Check for sensitivity to milk, dairy products and other foods.
  • Keep a symptom diary, noting where and when your attacks occur, along with possible exacerbating factors.
  • Become educated about your disease -- what triggers an attack, available medicines, educational resources and support groups


Last updated July 30, 2014

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