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Complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies for asthma

Richard J Martin, MD
Section Editors
Bruce S Bochner, MD
Robert A Wood, MD
Deputy Editor
Helen Hollingsworth, MD


The standard treatment of patients with asthma is based upon trigger avoidance combined with bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory therapy. Beta agonists, glucocorticoids, leukotriene modifiers, omalizumab, and, to a lesser extent, methylxanthines and anticholinergics all have a role in the conventional treatment of asthma. However, some patients do not achieve adequate control of their asthma with conventional therapy, experience adverse effects with conventional agents, or believe that complementary or alternative approaches may be better for them. For these patients, consideration may be given to the administration of nonstandard therapeutic regimens in order to ameliorate the acute or chronic manifestations of the disease.

Complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies for the treatment of acute and chronic asthma will be reviewed here. Standard and investigational treatment regimens for asthma are discussed separately. (See "An overview of asthma management" and "Management of acute exacerbations of asthma in adults" and "Investigational agents for asthma".)


Several nonpharmacologic approaches to asthma management have been proposed, including herbal medications, dietary interventions, behavioral therapies, acupuncture, massage, and speleotherapy. Evidence supporting the use of complementary and alternative medical approaches to improve asthma management is limited. A meta-analysis of 15 trials, many of which are discussed in the sections below, found insufficient evidence to recommend any of these interventions as a useful addition to standard asthma management [1]. A subsequent systematic review reached the same conclusion [2].

Complementary-alternative medicine – The term "alternative medicine" was initially used to describe therapies used in place of conventional care. The term "complementary-alternative medicine (CAM)" is preferred because it recognizes the history and experience of traditional remedies in many countries and the potential role of "complementary-alternative medicine" techniques in disease management, if they are demonstrated to be safe and effective.

Patients may turn to CAM therapists who offer them personal attention, hope, time, and therapies consistent with their values, world view, and culture.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 29, 2017.
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