For many people living with asthma, an inhaler is part of everyday life.
Yet another important piece of managing asthma is learning how to avoid triggers and support overall health. And home remedies can be part of this plan.
While they cannot treat an asthma attack, nor can they replace inhalers and medication, some natural remedies may help improve lung function and ease asthma symptoms.
From breathing exercises to yoga to supplements, there’s no shortage of possible treatments being studied. However, so far, few of these therapies actually work and some come with risks.
In this article, I will review the most popular at-home remedies and natural remedies for asthma so you know which ones are scientifically shown to help and which ones are not supported by research and likely don’t help.
I’ll also discuss the potential risks of using alternative treatments as well as when to see a doctor to discuss your asthma and how best to treat your symptoms.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disorder that affects the ability to breathe.
When someone has asthma, the airways (bronchi) in the lungs are prone to becoming inflamed and constrictive. The smooth muscles that surround the airways contract, and the lungs may produce extra phlegm, reducing air flow.
When symptoms worsen, it is called an asthma attack. Different triggers—such as allergies, exercise, or illness—may make asthma worse for different people.
Some people develop asthma as children, and their symptoms either continue into adulthood or improve over time. Others do not experience asthma until they are adults.
Common symptoms of asthma include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Chest tightness or chest pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weakness or fatigue
Asthma affects everyone differently: Some people rarely have symptoms, while others experience symptoms on a regular basis.
In severe cases, asthma can be life-threatening. If you are having severe difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical attention right away.
Although researchers are still not sure what causes asthma, risk factors include:
- Genetics: Those with a family history of asthma are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Environment: People exposed to air pollution, smoke or second-hand smoke, and other airborne allergens and irritants are at a greater risk for asthma.
- Occupation: Certain jobs can expose people to airborne chemicals, dust, and vapors that trigger asthma symptoms.
- Medical history: People who have a history of respiratory illnesses or who were born premature may be more prone to having asthma.
There is no cure for asthma, but you can manage the condition with the right combination of medical treatments and lifestyle changes.
People often use rescue inhalers or long-term control medications to alleviate their symptoms. Avoiding triggers and other lifestyle changes can also help keep symptoms under control.
At-Home and Natural Remedies for Asthma
If you believe you have asthma or have already been diagnosed with asthma, talk to a healthcare provider before beginning any new treatment.
In addition to inhalers and other medication, some alternative therapies may help manage asthma.
However, these should never replace any treatments recommended or prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Studies have shown that people with asthma often suffer from sub-optimal breathing patterns that can decrease lung function and make them more vulnerable to asthma attacks.
Retraining yourself to breathe more regularly may alleviate short-term symptoms and reduce the symptoms of asthma over time.
- Buteyko: The Buteyko breathing technique is a series of breathing exercises that research suggests may improve breathing patterns and reduce reliance on rescue inhalers over time. However, more research is necessary to confirm its effectiveness.
- Papworth: The Papworth method is a relaxation technique that encourages properly using the diaphragm as you breathe. Although researchers are still investigating the long-term benefits of the practice, a small study suggests it may help relieve asthma symptoms, reduce poor breathing habits, and enhance mood.
Tea or coffee
Some studies suggest that caffeinated drinks like coffee and black tea may help boost lung function in people with asthma.
There is less evidence to suggest that other herbal teas like eucalyptus tea, licorice tea, turmeric tea, and mullein tea can combat asthma.
While some people experience health benefits from inhaling certain essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties, others with asthma find their symptoms worsen with exposure to the oils or any strong fragrance.
The following essential oils are often discussed for treating asthma:
- Lavender oil: There is no human evidence that using lavender oil can positively affect asthma. However, the fragrance may help improve cognition, mood, and stress.
- Eucalyptus oil: Research suggests that eucalyptus oil may reduce asthma-related symptoms by suppressing inflammation and improving immune system response.
If you decide to try these, never apply essential oils directly to your skin, ingest them orally, or inhale them without diluting or using a diffuser or vaporizer.
If you are sensitive to allergens or fragrances, use caution before using essential oils. Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children.
Diet and supplements
For one, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding foods that could cause an allergic reaction may prevent asthma attacks.
For another, eating an antioxidant-rich diet full of fruits and vegetables may reduce lung inflammation and help protect from lung-damaging free radicals.
Additionally, certain foods and supplements may have specific benefits.
However, always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements:
- Ginger: Studies on human cells suggest that compounds in ginger may help relax and open lung airways. And in one human trial, taking ginger supplements reduced wheezing and eased chest tightness in people living with asthma. More research is necessary to confirm these benefits.
- Honey: This natural remedy can help suppress cough. Animal research also suggests that aerosolized honey may work to soothe lung inflammation when inhaled, but this hasn’t been studied in humans. Always consult your healthcare provider or asthma specialist before trying any inhaled supplement or alternative treatment.
- Garlic: Although garlic is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, there is no evidence that eating garlic or taking garlic supplements can improve asthma symptoms.
- Omega-3 oils: Some studies suggest that fish oil and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may soothe asthma in people with milder forms of the condition. Eating fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, cod, oysters, and anchovies, as well as walnuts, soybeans, flax seeds, and chia seeds, are all great ways to add omega 3 to your diet. Note that some prescription medications can reduce the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fatty acids. So if you take a high dose of corticosteroids to combat your asthma, talk to your provider.
- Herbal supplements: Some experts suggest taking herbal remedies, such as those containing Chinese herbs like ding-chuan tang and ma huang tang, for asthma control. However, there’s scant scientific evidence on their effectiveness, and the studies that do exist are on animals and human cells. Talk to your provider before beginning any herbal supplement regime to make sure you avoid drug interactions or adverse side effects.
Some alternative therapies may complement pharmaceutical drugs and other treatments when treating long-term asthma symptoms.
- Hypnotherapy: Although further research is required, initial evidence suggests that people with asthma may benefit from regular hypnosis. The practice may alleviate symptoms and help manage stress (which can exacerbate breathing difficulties).
- Speleotherapy: In certain parts of the world (mainly Eastern and Central Europe), doctors use speleotherapy to treat asthma. During speleotherapy sessions, people stay in caves or mines, sometimes doing breathing or physical exercises. However, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that these therapies work.
- Massage: Massage therapy may improve lung function in children with asthma, according to a meta-analysis of 14 studies. Research is still ongoing, though.
Making healthy choices may help people with asthma live better lives. Consider the following options:
- Yoga: There’s moderate scientific evidence that practicing yoga may help improve quality of life, lung function, and symptoms in those who have asthma. The low-impact practice also helps reduce stress and general inflammation, which may boost overall mental and physical health. Talk to your doctor to determine what type of yoga may be best for you.
- Other exercise: Aerobic exercise and strength training may also improve lung function and asthma control. That said, some people find that strenuous physical activity induces asthma attacks, so it’s important to talk to your provider before beginning any new exercise regimen.
- Mindfulness and stress reduction: Research is inconclusive, but some studies have shown that meditation, mindfulness, and other stress-reduction techniques may help improve quality of life and reduce some people’s reliance on quick-relief asthma inhalers.
- Acupuncture: Although research continues, some studies suggest that adding acupuncture to traditional asthma treatment may lead to greater reductions in symptoms and inflammation.
- Eliminating triggers: The best way to treat your asthma naturally is to monitor your symptoms and reduce your exposure to activities and environmental triggers that negatively affect your lungs. Common triggers include food, odors, mold, seasonal allergens, animals, pests, and air pollution like irritating vapors, chemicals, and smoke. Physical exertion and strong emotions like stress, laughter, anger, and fear can also negatively affect lung function. Consider keeping a journal to track your symptoms and what may have caused them to help you identify your triggers.
Risks of At-Home and Natural Treatment for Asthma
There is no cure for asthma. It is a chronic disease with symptoms that can evolve as you grow older.
If improperly treated, asthma can lead to life-long lung scarring and reduced breathing capacity. In severe cases, the condition can be life-threatening.
If you have asthma, it’s important to be monitored by a healthcare professional to ensure that you are receiving the proper medical treatment you need to stay healthy and safe.
When appropriately used, alternative treatments, natural treatments, and home remedies can complement prescription medicines and inhalers.
However, they should never replace them altogether. Always talk to your doctor about any additional treatments, as some are not proven to help and others may reduce the effectiveness of medications you’re taking.
When to See a Healthcare Professional
Asthma can worsen if left untreated. If you are wheezing, coughing, having difficulty breathing, or experiencing any other asthma-related symptoms, make an appointment with a doctor. They can assess your situation and, whether you have asthma or another condition, work with you to create a treatment plan to relieve your discomfort and improve your well-being.
If you or someone you know experiences any of the severe symptoms below, you may be having a severe, life-threatening asthma attack. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room right away.
- Chest pain
- Severe shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Difficulty speaking
- Feeling weak or faint
- Feeling forced to use your chest muscles to help you breathe
- A bluish tinge to your face, mouth, or lips
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Frequently Asked Questions
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