Most complementary therapies for asthma haven’t been shown to work. The exception is some types of breathing exercises, which do seem to improve symptoms and quality of life.
According to Dr Mike Thomas from Asthma UK, there’s little evidence that complementary therapies in general improve asthma symptoms.
Specific remedies that are sometimes tried include homeopathy, acupuncture, air ionisers, the Alexander technique and Chinese herbal medicine, but the results have been disappointing. Read more about asthma treatment.
Breathing Exercises for Asthma
The exception is certain types of breathing exercises, which can help some people with asthma. These include breathing exercises taught by a lung (respiratory) physiotherapist, some types of yoga breathing exercises, and the Buteyko method of breathing.
People with asthma are taught slow, steady “diaphragmatic” breathing through the nose. This type of breathing is done by contracting the diaphragm, which is located between the chest and the stomach. This can result in fewer asthma symptoms and better quality of life. However, these exercises are not a cure, and people with asthma still need to use their regular inhalers.
The Buteyko Method
The Buteyko method, a system developed in Russia, teaches similar exercises and may improve asthma symptoms for some people. However, some find that the breathing exercises used during yoga also help their symptoms.
According to Leanne Male, Asthma UK’s assistant director of research, people with asthma who gain some relief from Buteyko and other types of breathing exercise should not rely on it so much that they stop their conventional medication.
“We know that some people with asthma use breathing techniques such as Buteyko but, while they may reduce symptoms, they will not reduce the sensitivity of the airway, and should not replace regular asthma medicine. Also, we don’t know what the long-term benefits are.”
Chinese and Other Herbal Medicines for Asthma
There isn’t enough clinical evidence to recommend the use of Chinese medicine, other herbal medicines, acupuncture, hypnosis and other complementary therapies.