Asthma and Alternative Medicine

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A recent study concluded that nearly one-third of the English-speaking population in the United States may utilize unconventional therapy. In non-English-speaking patients living in this country, the use of alternative choices to conventional therapy is higher. Despite further scientific advances in the understanding of asthma, many asthmatics choose alternative forms of treatment. These treatments have not been subjected to the vigorous scientific scrutiny that new asthma medications must undergo before their release. Patients who choose unorthodox forms of treatment often lack faith in modern medicine or are deterred by the way it is practiced.

Unfortunately, some of the alternative forms of treatment may be detrimental. Researchers have recently found that adult asthmatics using herbs were at 2.5 times the risk for asthma hospitalization compared with asthma sufferers not using herbs. Coffee or black tea use was associated with a tripled risk compared with asthmatics not using these beverages for


Many forms of alternative medicine such as changes in lifestyle can be used to complement traditional treatment. Patients should always consult with their physicians before pursuing any alternative therapy.

What Are the Alternative?

The major alternative therapies are dietary and lifestyle modifications, herbal medicines, indigenous practices such as Chinese medicine, and pseudoscientific practices. Each of these alternatives has attracted large numbers of followers despite the absence of proven benefits from these practices.

“I’m Drinking Black Tea”

L.T. is a sixty-six-year-old CEO of a major company who has been under my care for several years. He is usually seen on an emergency basis, often after a lapse of more than a year. When the patient is seen, he is usually wheezing and requires corticosteroids to avoid hospitalization. I have prescribed a regimen of a short acting B2-agonist and a topical corticosteroid spray. With each exacerbation, I have explained the basis of treatment as well as possible adverse effects. On his last emergency visit I asked if he was following my directions and he said that he was not. The patient explained that he was afraid of possible side effects and had chosen Chinese medicine. “I am drinking black tea,” he said. When I asked what was in it, he replied “I don’t know.” When I asked why he chose an unknown remedy that might be harmful over a medication that had gone through extensive testing, he replied “I just don’t like to take medicine.”

Unfortunately, many intelligent patients choose similar remedies over traditional medicine. After another severe attack which required a night in an emergency room for treatment, the CEO is now using his steroid spray.

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