You may have heard claims about a number of alternative therapies for treating asthma. Keep reading to learn the facts about some of the more common therapies that have been used to help ease the symptoms of asthma.
Acupuncture is one of the most thoroughly researched and documented alternative medical practices. It is a practice first developed in China in which needles are inserted in the skin. Practitioners also use heat, pressure, friction, suction, or impulses of electromagnetic energy to stimulate points in the body. Studies suggest that acupuncture may be helpful in treating asthma when used along with traditional treatment.
Aromatherapy is a branch of herbal medicine that uses plant and herbal oils taken from flowers, leaves, branches, or roots to treat health problems. Alternative healthcare providers have used essential oils for thousands of years. Hippocrates claimed that the way to health was through aromatic baths and massages. These essential oils are inhaled, applied to the skin, or swallowed. Aromatherapy is sometimes used to treat immune disorders and asthma. However, there are few research studies that prove that aromatherapy really works.
Chiropractors use a technique called adjustment. They move the spine to treat pain or disease. They believe that these manipulations help people avoid the need for medicines or surgery. Chiropractic therapy is a popular and common treatment for lower back pain. However, the medical community generally does not support its use for other conditions. There are no current research studies connecting chiropractic treatment and asthma.
Hypnosis has been used for healing since ancient times. Different focus techniques are used to quiet the conscious mind and make the unconscious mind more accessible. Verbal suggestions improve subconscious thinking. Hypnosis is widely used to control pain, reduce stress, and assist in healing. Research suggests that hypnosis may be useful in the treatment of asthma when used with traditional medicine but further study is needed.
Massage therapy uses squeezing and rolling of muscles to relax and relieve tension. It is one of the oldest health practices. Massage is most often done with the hands, but sometimes forearms, elbows, and feet are used. Massage therapy is intended to help the body relax and heal itself. But the results of studies that have looked at the effectiveness of massage for asthma have been mixed. Massage may be helpful, but more research is needed before we know for sure.
Traditional Chinese medicine includes a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, acupressure, qigong (key-gong), and oriental massage. This approach relies on identifying an imbalance of qi, or vital energy. Diagnosis involves observation, listening, questioning, and physical exam, including feeling the pulse in different parts of the body. While some patients have found that their symptoms improve when using these methods, research is necessary to prove any benefit to these treatments.
Written by Karen Serrano, MD
Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD
Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine
Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University
Board certified in Allergy and Immunology
Last updated June 2008