December 17, 2023/Lung

Should You Try an Alternative Asthma Treatment?

The effectiveness and safety of many of these options are unknown, so it’s best to stick to traditional care

male doing yoga breathing exercises seated on a bed

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


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While you may use medication like a bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory medicine or a biologic therapy to manage your asthma, you may have also considered a natural asthma treatment.

And that can mean you’re turning to complementary and alternative medicines. Alternative treatments are often used alone, while complementary treatments are used in combination with traditional treatments your doctor prescribes.

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 actually 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 cure for asthma or wondering how to cure asthma naturally. There are many complementary and alternative treatments that claim to treat asthma. But because there have been few or no research studies on most of them, the effectiveness and safety of many are unknown. Dr. Pennington shares her insight into a few alternative remedies.

Herbs and vitamins

Can you use herbs for asthma?

It’s believed that some Chinese herbs, like ding-chan tang (DCT), can decrease inflammation and relieve bronchospasm. Ma Huang (ephedra), a common herb used in dietary supplements, has been used for years as a bronchodilator. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned ephedra. Some studies have also shown that vitamin C and vitamin D improve asthma symptoms.

“Studies have been mixed on whether or not vitamin D is helpful,” states Dr. Pennington.

It’s also important to note that some herbs used to treat asthma have been found to interact with other medicines. For example, Gingko biloba, used to decrease inflammation in the lungs, could cause bleeding problems in people who are also taking the blood thinner warfarin. Licorice root, used to soothe the lungs of asthmatics, can increase blood pressure. Ephedra has been used as a bronchodilator but has also been linked to some unexplained deaths.

Most people think herbal remedies for asthma are safe to take. But many herbs haven’t been thoroughly tested — and the FDA doesn’t regulate them. This means that the purity and amount of herb in each dose — and, therefore, its safety — can’t be guaranteed.


Dr. Pennington stresses that it’s very important that you always inform your doctor if you’re taking any herbs or dietary supplements. Some herbs may worsen your asthma or other medical conditions, or they may interfere with prescribed medicines you’re taking.


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

Current research doesn’t prove that yoga eases asthma symptoms, but if someone with asthma feels that yoga helps them feel and breathe better, there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue to practice 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 potentially help with your asthma symptoms.”


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

There are some reports that this traditional form of Chinese medicine can help in the treatment of asthma, but this hasn’t been proven.

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


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

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 can include altering your breathing. Learning to increase the amount of air inhaled has reduced fear and anxiety during an asthma attack for some asthmatics.

“Biofeedback can help decrease anxiety and stress,” adds Dr. Pennington.


Managing asthma

While alternative or holistic asthma treatment may not give you any relief, Dr. Pennington says the best thing you can do is avoid asthma triggers such as:

  • Air pollution.
  • Dust mites.
  • Exercise.
  • Mold.
  • Pests.
  • Pets.
  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Strong chemicals or smells.
  • Certain occupational exposures.

It’s important that you try to keep your house free of dust and mold. You may also need to keep your windows closed to prevent air pollution and dust mites from getting inside.

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

Your healthcare provider may also suggest that you come up with an asthma action plan. This plan serves as a tool for you, your caregivers and your healthcare 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 frequently you should be using inhalers or taking oral steroids and when to call your doctor’s office,” explains Dr. Pennington.

Bottom line?

When it comes to natural asthma relief, because most alternative and complementary treatments aren’t regulated, it’s difficult 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’re considering before trying them.
  • If you experience side effects like nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, 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. Look for scientific-based sources of information.
  • Select brands carefully. Only purchase brands that list the herb’s common and scientific name, the name and address of the manufacturer, a batch and lot number, expiration date, dosage guidelines and potential side effects.

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

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