By Purvi Parikh, MD

In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 26.5 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with asthma; 18.7 million of those folks were adults, and 6.8 million were children. There are also nearly 50 million people suffering from environmental allergies in our country as well.

Some patients may look to alternative treatments to find relief.

According to the Institute of Medicine, an alternative medicine can be defined as any unproven treatment for an illness or disease, such as asthma or allergies. “Unproven” means there’s an insufficient amount of evidence to show that the treatment is actually effective.

However, some patients swear by complementary and alternative therapies to help reduce asthma and allergy symptoms.

Some of these treatments include, but are not limited to, acupuncture, massage, hypnosis, diet, exercise and herbal medicine. Below are common alternative treatments individuals have tried to help relieve symptoms.

Remember, it is extremely important to talk to your doctor before making non-traditional medicine part of your treatment.

• Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting the tips of needles into key points on the skin in order to signal the brain and release endorphins. Doing so can help reduce pain and create a sense of well-being. This allows people with asthma and/or allergies to experience calmer breathing and a sense of relaxation. If you decide to go through with acupuncture, be sure to work with an experienced, licensed acupuncturist.

• Massage

Massage and other relaxation techniques, such as hypnosis and meditation, are promoted to reduce stress levels and a sense of well-being. Stress is a common asthma trigger and may cause you to feel short of breath, anxious and even panicked. By reducing your stress, you could be able reduce the chance of asthma attacks from some triggers.

Massage therapy on the neck and rib cage can also help relax and release the tension of the accessory respiratory muscles used in breathing. It’s important to undergo this with a trained masseuse and to monitor the process closely in order to determine its effectiveness.

• Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to treat various problems regarding the human body. However, it’s important to use caution with herbal remedies and always discuss the use of herbs or dietary supplements with your doctor.

There are many herbs that have anti-inflammatory properties that help decrease the frequency of asthma attacks, such as gingko biloba, licorice root, butterbur, khella and stinging nettles. When taking these, it’s important to always keep in mind the quality, dose and possible side effects – for instance, any allergies to the plant itself.

All herbal medications should be approved by your medical doctor, as some can interact with medications you may be taking for other conditions.

Some people find relief with the alternative treatments mentioned above. Some do not. If that’s a chance you’re willing to take, the most important thing to remember is that you must always consult your board-certified allergist/immunologist before starting treatment.

And a reminder: These treatments can be a supplement, but none should replace evidence-based treatments for allergies and asthma – especially in the setting of an acute allergic reaction, anaphylaxis or asthma attack. In those situations, conditions may be dangerous if you do not seek appropriate and emergency medical care.

Purvi Parikh, MD, is an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, the leading nonprofit patient education organization for people with allergies, asthma and related conditions. She practices in New York City at Allergy and Asthma Associates of Murray Hill and New York University School of Medicine. She sits on the Board of Directors for the advocacy council of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).