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Get the Scoop on Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Allergy and Asthma image

Pharmacy shelves stocked with supplements – some even promising to treat allergies & asthma. Techniques such as yoga, massage, biofeedback, and acupuncture. What do these have in common? They are all considered complementary and alternative medicines, or CAM for short, and nearly 4 in 10 people use them in one form or another.

What is the difference between them? Alternative medicine is often used instead of conventional medical techniques, and complementary medicine is used along with medical approaches that are more traditional.

Do they work? Scientific evidence supports the use of some treatments or practices when used along with or in place of traditional medicine. But many others are not effective therapies and may even be dangerous, especially those that ask you to forgo treatment from your doctor. In addition, CAM can interfere with conventional medicines prescribed by your doctor – reducing benefits or increasing risks.

Unlike conventional medicines, CAM products are considered “supplements” and are not tested for safety and efficacy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Allergic Risks
If you have allergies or asthma, it is best to speak with your doctor before using CAM. Unlike conventional medicines, CAM products are considered “supplements” and are not tested for safety and efficacy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Neither are they subject to quality controls or ingredient labeling laws. In addition, some manufacturers may not test their products, and there is no guarantee that you are purchasing a safe and effective form of the supplement. It can be extremely difficult to know what ingredients these supplements contain, potentially creating risk for people with food or medication allergies.

Herbal formulas can cause side effects and have been connected with severe reactions. Several cases of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, have been reported from some herbal supplements. Some food supplements may also cause an allergic reaction. For example, people with a ragweed pollen allergy may also have an allergic reaction to chamomile tea.

As physicians learn more about CAM, there is agreement that some treatments can be very helpful when integrated into practices for health and well-being. For example, researchers are currently studying the effects of herbal medicines on food allergies. Early results suggest that some formulas may prevent severe allergic reactions to peanuts. Check with your doctor first to see if you should include CAM as part of your healthcare.

 

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, July/August 2011.