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Can Complementary (Alternative) Therapies be used to Treat Asthma?

Conventional asthma therapy can improve asthma control and prevent potentially-dangerous asthma attacks in virtually all children with asthma. While some families may wish to consider alternative treatments, it must be emphasized that these treatments, when used, should be used in addition to conventional therapy, rather than instead of conventional therapy, to avoid the possibility of a severe asthma attack.

Massage therapy (stroking and kneading motions of the face, head, neck, and shoulders, arms and hands, and legs, feet, and back), for 20 minute sessions, taught by a trained massage therapist, has been shown, in a carefully-performed medical research study, to reduce anxiety in children 4-14 years of age, improve pulmonary function in children 4-8 years of age, and, possibly improve pulmonary function in children 9-14 years of age.

A carefully-performed study of chiropractic manipulation showed no benefit when added to conventional medical therapy in children with asthma.

Some herbal remedies for asthma contain compounds closely related to medications commonly used in the treatment of asthma. Tea contains caffeine, which is closely related to theophylline, a mild bronchodilator. Ma Huang (Ephedra) is related to beta-2 agonist relievers (bronchodilators). However, as dosages may not be standardized or may vary, there is no discernible advantage to their use over conventional drug preparations.

Many other alternative therapies for asthma are being promoted. In general, these treatments have not been carefully evaluated for their efficacy, and their potential side effects are often unknown. Some of these therapies rely on non-conventional "allergy testing." Conventional allergy tests usually apply extracts of substances which commonly cause allergies to skin which has been pricked with a needle, or, less often, is injected with a needle into the skin. The results of these tests have been shown to be closely related to allergy-causing antibodies against these substances. Non-conventional "allergy tests," using electrical, magnetic, or other methods, have not been shown to be related to antibodies, and their clinical significance has not been demonstrated. If your child is having allergy tests performed by someone who is not a trained allergist, you should ask whether your child is getting a conventional allergy test, or a non-conventional allergy test.

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