Non-Pharmacological Treatments for Asthma

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

Not everyone desires to take prescribed or over-the-counter drugs to cure their asthma. We are going to discuss some of the non-pharmacological treatment options for asthma and how they work.


There are few things that make you fight for your life more than not being able to breathe. This is something that people who have asthma deal with on a regular basis, especially when an attack occurs. Asthma is a condition of having inflamed and narrowed airways with an accumulation of mucus in the airways.

Meet Ricky, a 25 year old with asthma. The goal for treating asthma is to get the airways open again. There are quite a few drugs that are available, but Ricky is beginning to look for treatment options that don't involve drugs: like exercises, herbs, or supplements. We are going to look at the options Ricky can choose from.

Dealing With Triggers

One of the first things Ricky had to do when he got diagnosed was to determine what triggers his asthma and asthma attacks. Some culprits can include airborne allergens, food allergies, milk from cows, and cold air.

The best thing for Ricky to do is to avoid his trigger(s). This may include staying away from animal fur, avoiding milk and milk products, not eating foods to which he is allergic, and trying to stay in a warmer climate. His home needs to be clean at all times and free of dust. A hired cleaner may be a good idea to avoid a trigger from cleaning supplies.

Cigarette smoke should be avoided
No smoking picture

Ricky finds out that his biggest trigger is cigarette smoke. He recently started smoking and didn't realize that cigarette smoke is a common trigger for most asthmatics. At this point, he should cease smoking to avoid exacerbating his condition. He may find it helpful to use a smoking cessation aid such as nicotine gums or patches in order to help him quit.

Another trigger for Ricky is exercise. He enjoys playing basketball on an almost daily basis. He doesn't want to quit! Fortunately, there are some things he can do to change how much he exerts himself as he plays. Warm ups before a game and practice can help build the intensity of his exercise slowly. He may also need to take frequent breaks, especially if he begins coughing in order to avoid an attack. Ricky should do interval training during his practices that involves low intensity exercise alternated with bursts of higher intensity for short periods.

Ricky should balance his vegetables and fruits along with the meat that he loves to eat. He should probably also avoid processed foods, fried foods, artificial flavors and sweeteners, and refined carbohydrates. He should also limit his consumption of foods containing nitrates and nitrites such as hot dogs, deli meats, bacon and beer.

Herbal and Supplemental Remedies

Certain vitamins seem to decrease asthma symptoms. It always seems that vitamin C takes care of everything and there is no exception here! Ricky decides to take vitamin C as well as B vitamins. These vitamins have been shown help to decrease inflammation in the body to include the inflammation in the airways of asthma sufferers.

Other supplements that may help Ricky are omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, as they reduce inflammation in the body. He can get omega-3 naturally by adding fish to his diet a couple times a week and eating most nuts and flaxseed. Antioxidants are found in many berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. If Ricky is not a fan of these foods then he can also get these in supplemental pill form.

Ricky may also experience relief by increasing his intake of natural bronchodilators, which are substances that widen the airway. Magnesium (found in bananas, avocados, leafy greens, soy beans, and nuts) work as a really good bronchodilator. Ricky can also drink green tea and take lobelia, Ma Huang, and Coleus Forskohlii since they all act as bronchodilators.

Reishi mushrooms have been used to reduce inflammation
Picture of Reishi mushroom

Some people in eastern cultures eat Reishi mushrooms as a means of treating asthma. Not only does it decrease inflammation in the airways and other parts of the body, but it also helps to strengthen lung activity to make them more effective. Ricky could put the mushroom in his food or take it as a supplement.

Exercises and Procedures

There are a handful of exercises that may help Ricky control his asthma. Most people with asthma should do some type of aerobic exercise, but Ricky is already meeting this requirement with basketball. He should only play and practice in warm, moist air since asthmatics should not exercise in cold, dry climates.

It is a good idea for Ricky to do some type of resistance training such as weightlifting and stretching exercises such as yoga or pilates. These help circulation, decrease stress, and strengthen muscles which can all help him breathe better.

Ricky can practice controlled breathing exercises which require him to hold his breath for a specific period of time and then attempt to control his breathing. Many breathing exercises also focus on posture which can greatly improve breathing. This can be accomplished through yoga and tai chi exercises.

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