Alternative and Natural Asthma Treatments

Are you one of the 25 million people living with asthma in the United States? If so, you may wonder if there are alternative or natural remedies for asthma treatment. The short answer is no. Alternative or natural treatments should not be used to treat asthma. Rather they can be used to complement or supplement therapy. They should not replace evidence-based medical treatments.

Closeup of the torso of a doc sitting at desk with a stethoscope and an apple.

Not all alternative or natural treatments are created equal. There are some that may help, but there are many that may not. The key is to talk with your doctor to find out which non-traditional treatments are safe for you.

Which alternative treatments for asthma have evidence to show they work?

Do an internet search for alternative or natural asthma therapies. You’ll find a lot of websites and a lot of advice, some of which may not be credible. Often these sites offer little to no evidence showing their complementary treatments actually work.

But some complementary or natural asthma therapies do have scientific evidence. They may help improve asthma symptoms. Before considering any complementary or natural therapy, discuss the possible benefits and risks with your doctor.

Two people practicing breathing techniques to help reduce asthma symptoms

Evidence: Breathing exercises

Many types of breathing exercises can help reduce asthma symptoms. They may help you to focus on your breathing patterns and or learn how to slow breathing. Find out how these breathing techniques can help you manage asthma symptoms.

Evidence: Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese technique. It involves inserting the tips of needles into key points on the skin. This can signal the brain and release endorphins. Doing so can help reduce pain and create a sense of well-being. This allows people with asthma to feel calmer breathing and a sense of relaxation.

There is some evidence that acupuncture can help with asthma control. It may help reduce asthma flare-ups and improve quality of life. If you decide to undergo acupuncture, talk to your doctor. And make sure to work with an experienced, licensed acupuncturist.

Evidence: Massage therapy

Massage and meditation can help relieve stress levels and develop a sense of well-being. Stress is a common asthma trigger. It may cause you to feel short of breath, anxious, and even panicked. By reducing your stress level, you can also your risk of having asthma attacks.

There is evidence that massage can help improve asthma symptoms in children. The evidence is not as consistent in adults. Talk with your healthcare provider before undergoing massage. It’s important to undergo massage therapy with a trained masseuse. 

Evidence: Yoga

Yoga is an exercise that combines the body, breath, and mind. It is a series of physical poses that require concentration. It can help calm and focus the mind and regulate breathing.

Practicing yoga has many known physical and mental health benefits. Evidence suggests that it can help people with asthma as a complementary therapy. Yoga can help improve lung function through controlled breathing. It can also improve quality of life.

Woman working out on treadmill as her trainer looks on.

Evidence: Lifestyle changes

How often do we hear the importance of a healthy diet? Regular exercise? Weight management? Quitting smoking? These come up when discussing nearly every health issue. Well, asthma is no exception to that rule.


Food affects many parts of our health. Most Americans do not eat the recommended number of fruit and vegetables. Most eat too much dietary fat. Evidence shows that what we eat can have an affect on asthma. Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can help reduce inflammation. And they can help improve lung function. Dietary fiber found in whole grains and legumes can help with the immune system of the gut. This can protect against allergic airway responses. 

A Mediterranean or vegan diet may help with asthma. These diets include lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. They also have fewer or no animal products. On the flip side, diets high in saturated fat can lead to inflammation and trigger an immune response. 


People with asthma or severe asthma may hesitate to exercise. Some may have exercise-induced asthma. They may avoid physical activity for fear it could trigger asthma symptoms.

But exercise-induced symptoms can normally be prevented. Your healthcare provider may recommend you use a quick-relief albuterol inhaler shortly before exercising. This will help pre-treat your asthma before physical activity.

Evidence suggests that regular exercise can help prevent asthma symptoms. Most people with well-controlled asthma can and should exercise for 20-60 minutes 3-5 days a week. They may need to do more warm-ups, keep hydrated, and pre-medicate with albuterol 15-20 minutes before exercise.

Talk to your doctor about a safe exercise routine. You should only exercise when your asthma is well controlled. If you start to have an asthma attack before or during exercise, stop immediately and use your quick-relief inhaler.

Weight management

Bode weight and obesity can be an issue for some people with asthma. Evidence shows that weight loss can help improve lung function. It can also help improve asthma control.

Normally the first approach to weight loss is a combination of diet and exercise. Talk to your doctor about the best weight loss strategies to help improve asthma symptoms.

Smoking cessation

We all have heard how bad smoking is for our health. For people with asthma, the evidence does not lie. Smoking causes more severe asthma symptoms. It can cause decreased lung function. Smoking can even make you less responsive to oral corticosteroids that are sometimes used to treat asthma flare-ups.

So, if you do smoke, partner with your doctor to develop a plan to help you quit. And if you live with or you’re around people who smoke, encourage them to quit. Set rules that they cannot smoke inside your house or car.

Evidence: Get an asthma coach

An asthma coach is a healthcare professional who works together with patients to help them manage their asthma. The 1-on-1 sessions are typically held virtually through a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Allergy & Asthma Network offers free virtual asthma coaching to eligible patients.

Asthma coaches can help children and adults in identifying asthma triggers and managing symptoms. They provide education, guidance, and support to help people with asthma better understand their condition and make lifestyle changes if needed. They can supplement the usual care provided by doctors.

Adults with uncontrolled asthma who take part in virtual asthma coaching show improved asthma control and quality of life. They also have fewer doctor or emergency department visits.

Evidence: Caffeine

Do you love a good cup of coffee or tea? Well, the good news is caffeine can sometimes act as a weak bronchodilator. This means it can help relax airway muscles and clear out mucus. Evidence suggests that when you drink caffeine, it can improve airway function for up to 4 hours.

However, you should never use caffeine as a substitute for prescribed asthma medications. This includes your quick-relief inhaler if you are having an asthma flare or life-threatening asthma attack.

Also, caffeine can skew the results of lung function testing. It should be avoided for at least 4 hours prior to any lung function test.

Evidence: Probiotics

Probiotics are found in things like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha, to name a few items. Probiotics can also be taken as a supplement.

Evidence shows that probiotics can help reduce asthma symptoms when they are taken with asthma medicines. Probiotics have anti-inflammatory effects and could help regulate the gut and lung. They may also treat GERD symptoms. GERD can sometimes lead to asthma flare-ups.

Risks of alternative and natural treatments for asthma

Treating asthma requires partnering with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that is right for you. Maybe you are worried about certain medical treatments and side effects. Or perhaps you prefer to use alternative and natural treatments. 

The problem is there is no scientific evidence to suggest that alternative and natural therapies actually help asthma. Rather, they may be useful tools to supplement your treatment plan.

Relying on natural treatments could put you at risk for poor asthma control. Uncontrolled asthma may lead to worsened and more frequent symptoms.

Let’s not forget that 10 people die each day from asthma in the United States. It’s important to discuss any medication concerns and preferences about treatment with your doctor.

Words on a chalkboard that says Facts and Myths.

Alternative and natural remedies lacking evidence to show they help with asthma

There are many so-called “natural remedies for asthma.” But many of them don’t have any or enough evidence to show they actually help asthma.

No Evidence: Essential oils

Many people have essential oils and essential oil diffusers in their homes. No matter what people claim, there is no evidence to support their use in treating asthma. Some of these oils can even be potential asthma triggers. And many of these release harmful substances into the air that can trigger an asthma attack.

No Evidence: Magnesium supplements

Magnesium is sometimes given intravenously in the hospital to people having an asthma attack. There is some thought that oral magnesium might be used to supplement asthma treatment. Current evidence does not support this. More research is needed.

No Evidence: Vitamins, dietary supplements, and herbal medicines

Herbal remedies, supplements, and vitamins are promoted everywhere, it seems. Everything from vitamin C and vitamin D to ginger to honey to fish oil to Chinese herbs – these products are often promoted as a potential natural remedy for asthma.

In some cases, there may be small studies suggesting that vitamins, dietary supplements and herbal medicines may help. In other cases, studies show benefits in animals, but not humans. And in others, the evidence doesn’t point one way or the other. More research is needed on their role in asthma management. Further, vitamins, supplements and herbal medications are not well-regulated like prescription medicines. It can be hard to know the quality of the supplement you are taking.

Be wary of certain herbs promoted to have anti-inflammatory properties that can help decrease the frequency of asthma attacks. These herbs include the gingko biloba plant, licorice root, butterbur, khella and stinging nettles. There is no evidence to support these will help. If you take any of these herbs, be wary of possible side effects, including having an allergy to the ingredients contained in the herbal supplements.

Always talk to your doctor about all the herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements you take. Some may interact with medications you may be taking for other conditions.

Bottom line: Are alternative or natural remedies safe for people with asthma?

An alternative or natural remedy should NEVER be used by itself to treat your asthma. Asthma requires partnering with your doctor to develop a treatment plan. It involves prescription medications including quick-relief and daily controller asthma inhalers.

A natural or complementary therapy may be safe as a supplement to your asthma treatment. But you should discuss these therapies with your doctor before trying them.

Rules of Two
Rules of TWO®
When is quick relief for asthma NOT ENOUGH?
DO YOU.... Graphic of a Black woman doctor holding her hand up to show the bullet points in the text.

✓ Take your quick relief inhaler more than TWO TIMES A WEEK?

✓ Awaken at night with asthma more than TWO TIMES A MONTH?

✓ Do you refill your quick-relief inhaler more than TWO TIMES A YEAR?

✓ Use prednisone TWO or more times a year for flares of asthma?
Measure changes in peak flow with asthma symptoms of more than TWO TIMES 10 (20%)?

If you answer "yes" to any of them, talk to your doctor.

Rules of Two is a registered trademark of Baylor Health Care System

Questions and answers (Q&A) on alternative and natural remedies for asthma

Here are some of the most common questions we’re asked about managing asthma. If you have any questions you would like to see answered here, please email the editor.

What exercises help control asthma?


There are no specific exercises that can help control asthma. Exercise in general can help boost your immune system, reduce lung inflammation, and improve lung function. Activities like walking or swimming can get your body moving.

You may find that long duration exercises – such as lengthy runs or bicycle rides – are more challenging. Sports like basketball and soccer can be hard on your breathing. You may also find exercise in cold weather may trigger symptoms.

You should only exercise when your asthma is well controlled. It can be dangerous to exercise during an asthma attack.

Discuss exercise with your doctor. Make sure to always carry your quick-relief inhaler when you exercise.

What are stress-related asthma symptoms?

Stress-related asthma symptoms can vary from person to person. Symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Some people may also feel anxious, scared, or feel like they are having a panic attack.

Some alternative or natural therapies, such as exercise or yoga, may help you reduce stress-related asthma symptoms.

Reviewed by:

Purvi Parikh, MD, FACAAI is an adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist at Allergy and Asthma Associates of Murray Hill in New York City. She is on faculty as Clinical Assistant Professor in both departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.

Ruthie Marker, MSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, LSSYB is a respiratory therapist with more than 13 years of experience working in adult critical care, neonatal care, and patient education. She joined Allergy & Asthma Network to support the Not One More Life coaching program as a Spanish-speaking Asthma Coach. Ruthie has worked as a respiratory therapist in Texas all of her career and has supported COVID-19 efforts in Maryland and Arkansas.