There's some evidence that certain alternative treatments may help with asthma symptoms. However, keep in mind that these treatments are not a replacement for medical treatment — especially if you have severe asthma. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements, as some may interact with medications you take. While some alternative remedies are used for asthma, in most cases more research is needed to see how well they work and to measure the extent of possible side effects. Alternative asthma treatments include:
- Breathing techniques. Examples include the Buteyko breathing technique, the Papworth method, and yoga breathing (pranayama). These exercises may reduce the amount of medication you need to keep your asthma symptoms under control. Yoga classes increase fitness and reduce stress, which may help with asthma as well.
- Acupuncture. This technique involves placing very thin needles at strategic points on your body. It's safe and generally painless.
- Relaxation techniques. Techniques such as meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis and progressive muscle relaxation may help with asthma by reducing tension and stress.
- Herbal remedies. A few herbal remedies that have shown some promise in treating asthma symptoms include butterbur, dried ivy and ginkgo extract. Blends of different types of herbs are commonly used in traditional Chinese, Indian and Japanese medicine. However, more studies are needed to determine how well herbal remedies and preparations work for asthma.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Found in fish, flaxseed and other foods, these healthy oils may reduce the inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms. They also appear to have a number of other health benefits.
- Homeopathy. Homeopathy aims to stimulate the body's self-healing response using very small doses of substances that cause symptoms. In the case of asthma, homeopathic remedies are made from substances that generally trigger an asthmatic reaction, such as pollen or weeds. There's still not enough clear evidence to determine if homeopathy helps treat asthma caused by allergies.
Coping and support
Asthma can be challenging and stressful. You may sometimes become frustrated, angry or depressed because you need to cut back on your usual activities to avoid environmental triggers. You may also feel hampered or embarrassed by the symptoms of the disease and by complicated management routines. Children in particular may be reluctant to use an inhaler in front of their peers.
But asthma doesn't have to be a limiting condition. The best way to overcome anxiety and a feeling of helplessness is to understand your condition and take control of your treatment. Here are some suggestions that may help:
- Pace yourself. Take breaks between tasks and avoid activities that make your symptoms worse.
- Make a daily to-do list. This may help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. Reward yourself for accomplishing simple goals.
- Talk to others with your condition. Chat rooms and message boards on the Internet or support groups in your area can connect you with people facing similar challenges and let you know you're not alone.
- If your child has asthma, be encouraging. Focus attention on the things your child can do, not on the things he or she can't. Involve teachers, school nurses, coaches, friends and relatives in helping your child manage asthma.
Working together, you and your doctor can design a step-by-step plan for living with your condition and preventing asthma attacks.
- Follow your asthma action plan. With your doctor and health care team, write a detailed plan for taking medications and managing an asthma attack. Then be sure to follow your plan. Asthma is an ongoing condition that needs regular monitoring and treatment. Taking control of your treatment can make you feel more in control of your life in general.
- Identify and avoid asthma triggers. A number of outdoor allergens and irritants — ranging from pollen and mold to cold air and air pollution — can trigger asthma attacks. Find out what causes or worsens your asthma, and take steps to avoid those triggers.
- Monitor your breathing. You may learn to recognize warning signs of an impending attack, such as slight coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. But because your lung function may decrease before you notice any signs or symptoms, regularly measure and record your peak airflow with a home peak flow meter.
- Identify and treat attacks early. If you act quickly, you're less likely to have a severe attack. You also won't need as much medication to control your symptoms. When your peak flow measurements decrease and alert you to an impending attack, take your medication as instructed and immediately stop any activity that may have triggered the attack. If your symptoms don't improve, get medical help as directed in your action plan.
- Take your medication as prescribed. Just because your asthma seems to be improving, don't change anything without first talking to your doctor. It's a good idea to bring your medications with you to each doctor visit, so your doctor can double-check that you're using your medications correctly and taking the right dose.
- Pay attention to increasing quick-relief inhaler use. If you find yourself relying on your quick-relief inhaler such as albuterol, your asthma isn't under control. See your doctor about adjusting your treatment.