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Get the Facts about Alternative Medicine for Allergies & Asthma

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Any unproven treatment for an illness or disease is considered an alternative medical approach by most American medical doctors. “Unproven” means there is not enough acceptable scientific evidence to show that the treatment works. The term alternative medicine refers to a wide variety of treatments considered outside “mainstream” or “usual” medical approaches in the United States today.

Many people turn to alternative medicine to help alleviate their asthma or allergy symptoms. These treatment approaches may include, but are not limited to, acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, biofeedback, mental imaging, stress reduction, relaxation techniques, chiropractic spinal manipulation, diet, exercise, yoga, lifestyle changes, herbal medicine, vitamin supplements, folk medicine from various cultures, laser therapy, massage, hypnosis, and art or music therapy.

Medical and scientific experts do believe that some remedies may be worth a try, providing they are not harmful. In some cases, specific alternative medical treatment may improve or relieve symptoms of a specific illness or disease. However, the risks should not outweigh the potential benefits.

Beware the placebo effect. If you really want an alternative medical treatment to work, you may think it is working, even if it really isn’t!

If you believe a particular alternative medical approach might help reduce your asthma or allergy symptoms, talk with your doctor about it and about how you could integrate that treatment into your overall asthma and allergy management plan. No one should use alternative medicine without first consulting a board-certified physician. Any alternative medical approach should be used in addition to your normal asthma or allergy management plan. You should not substitute an alternative medical treatment for your regular medications or treatments. Be especially careful about use of alternative medicine on children. Approaches that are harmless for adults may not be harmless for children.

Beware the placebo effect.
If you really want an alternative medical treatment to work, you may think it is working, even if it really isn’t! This placebo effect often occurs for people using alternative medicine. Symptoms of asthma or allergy also may improve on their own as an illness (like a cold or flu) runs its course. If you use prescribed medications for your allergy or asthma symptoms, it may take time for them to “kick in.” So you may simply be feeling better because your medications started working – not because the alternative medicine is working.

Read between the label lines.
The federal government requires labels to state how an herb or vitamin may affect the body, but labels are not required to carry health warnings. Labels also cannot claim any medical or health benefit. Products often are not properly labeled, especially those imported from other countries. Many people experience toxic – and sometimes deadly – effects from using improperly labeled herbs. Some products contain unnamed medicines such as steroids, anti-inflammatories, or sedatives that act to reduce your symptoms. Other “hidden ingredients” in various products can be dangerous or even lethal. Use only products tested for safety and effectiveness.

Follow directions.
Never increase the amount or frequency of a dose or use a treatment or device in a different way than recommended. Do not use herbs in combinations. Do not take herbs if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Beware of developing allergy symptoms.
Allergies to specific plants and other substances (such as latex or nickel) can build up over time. Products you’ve used for years may suddenly cause mild to serious allergy symptoms, especially if you already are allergic to something. Check to see if new herbs, foods, or other products you plan to use are in the same “family” as your known allergens.

Use quality products and services.
Lack of quality standards is a serious problem for people who use various alternative medical treatments. Look for products that list the amount of the active ingredient(s). Make sure people giving you any kind of treatment are properly certified. Ask your pharmacist or health product store manager for recommendations. Research the product or service before you use it.

Consult with your physician before starting any new treatment.
This point cannot be stressed enough. If you have symptoms of asthma or allergy, but you have not been diagnosed, consult a board-certified doctor for a proper diagnosis. Do not rely on health product store personnel to help treat undiagnosed symptoms. If you know you have asthma or allergies, again, talk with your doctor about the alternative medicine you want to use – before you try it.

Keep in mind: Alternative therapy is medical treatment for which there is no conclusive, supporting scientific evidence. This does not necessarily mean the treatment is useless or ineffective. You simply must be careful in what you choose and how you use it.


Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2009-2010.