Alternative Therapies for Allergies and Asthma

In recent years, complementary-alternative medicine (CAM) has become very popular, with approximately half of the population either currently using or having previously used CAM on at least one occasion.

An acupuncture therapist inserting a needle in a patients back

Alina Solovyova-Vincent / Getty Images

The most common forms of CAM include acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, herbal medicines, and yoga. This increased use of CAM seems to be based on distrust of conventional and scientific-based medicine, bad experiences with physicians, and/or belief that CAM is safe, natural, and without side effects. So, let's explore some these therapies.


Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine and used for many chronic diseases, including allergic rhinitis and asthma. The process involves inserting needles into the skin at exact points on the body, which is supposed to restore the balance of "vital flows."

Most studies on acupuncture used to treat asthma are poorly designed and are not up to typical scientific standards. Many of these studies fail to include a "control" (a placebo or "fake" treatment) group and have a lack of "blinding" (meaning researchers cannot be biased since they don't know who gets the real treatment and who gets a placebo treatment) as part of the study design.

A review of the available well-controlled studies on acupuncture fails to show little if any, benefit for the treatment of asthma. Studies on acupuncture for treating allergic rhinitis are, for the most part, poorly designed, although a few shows benefits over placebo.

One study performed in children, using three months of acupuncture treatment and three months follow-up after treatment, did show benefits in those who received the "real" acupuncture. They still, however, required the same amount of medication for their allergies as the placebo group.

Herbal Medications

Many medications used to treat various medical problems are derived from plants and herbs, including theophylline, which has long been used to treat asthma. And various herbal supplements have been used to treat allergies and asthma, with only some showing benefit. 


Studies on herbs in asthma have shown benefit when compared to placebo, although many studies are poorly designed. Helpful herbs in asthma include Chinese herb mixes that contain Glycyrrhiza radix, Tylophora indica (Indian ipecac), and to a lesser degree, Boswellia serrata, butterbur, and saiboku-to (TJ96). On the other hand, Picrorhiza kurroa has not been shown to be effective in treating asthma.

Despite some promising results with the use of these herbal formulas in the management of asthma, allergy experts strongly warns against using them as a substitute for asthma medications.

Allergic Rhinitis

Studies on herbs in allergic rhinitis have been the more promising, with at least two studies on the use of butterbur in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. One well-designed study showed that butterbur was equivalent to cetirizine (Zyrtec®), while another showed that butterbur was equivalent to fexofenadine (Allegra®).

Another well-controlled study on perennial allergic rhinitis showed that biminne was effective for allergic rhinitis symptoms compared to placebo. Finally, a well-designed study showed that a Chinese herb mix was more effective on allergic rhinitis symptoms than placebo.

However, other studies using butterbur show no difference over placebo in treating symptoms in people with intermittent allergic rhinitis. Grapeseed extract was also not found to be helpful for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis.

While herbal supplements do show promise in the treatment of asthma and allergic rhinitis, there are some clear drawbacks. Herbs are not without side effects (some extremely dangerous) and have known interactions with many prescription medications.

Moreover, herbal supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the same manner as prescription medications, so purity is not guaranteed. Therefore, it makes little sense to take herbal supplements because they are safer than prescription medications.


Homeopathy is based on the idea that diseases can be cured by giving the substance that causes the disease back to a person in extremely small amounts. This is similar to the principle used in immunotherapy, except in much smaller doses that have proven to be beneficial with using allergy shots.


Three well-designed studies show little to no benefit of homeopathic remedies for treating asthma.

Allergic Rhinitis

Some studies show a benefit of homeopathy for treating allergic rhinitis, with a benefit over antihistamines, such as chlorpheniramine or equivalents to cromolyn nasal spray. However, numerous other studies show no benefit of homeopathy compared to placebo. Despite some encouraging results in some small, selected studies, the overall evidence for homeopathy is weak, while evidence for conventional medications in the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma is very strong.

Chiropractic-Spinal Manipulation

More than 100 patients with asthma were studied while being treated with "real" or "fake" chiropractic techniques. There were no differences between the two groups in terms of their asthma symptoms.

However, one of these studies did show that the patients who received real chiropractic treatment had decreased sensitivity to an irritant medication (methacholine) used to detect the severity of asthma. Another poorly-designed study on chiropractic techniques in asthma showed a mild increase in a measurement of lung function in the group receiving treatment, although no symptoms were measured.

Breathing Techniques/Yoga

Breathing techniques and yoga can be beneficial in terms of mental well-being and improvement in the quality of life scores for asthmatics. However, studies on techniques, such as Buteyko breathing, Sahaja, Hatha, and Pranayama yoga fail to show any consistent improvement in asthma symptoms or definite improvement in lung function testing. No studies are available for allergic rhinitis.


All studies reviewed on the use of biofeedback and hypnosis in the treatment of asthma were of poor study design and failed to show any benefit.

Other Holistic Therapies

There are no well-designed studies on the use of aromatherapy, chromotherapy, Bach's flowers, anthroposophy, Hopi candles, hydro-colon, urine therapy, clinical ecology, or iridology for the treatment of asthma or allergic rhinitis. Therefore these techniques should not be considered useful.

A Word From Verywell

While it would seem reasonable to make CAM part of an overall treatment regimen, it does not make sense for these unproven techniques to replace proven conventional therapies for potentially serious diseases, like asthma.

CAM appears to help with the mental and spiritual well-being of patients, which is not to be under-estimated. However, there is no definitive scientific basis for using CAM as the only treatment for asthma or allergic rhinitis.

Always consult with a physician before utilizing CAM, especially if using this in place of prescribed therapies.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.