Blog post: The truth about salt therapies, homeopathy and herbal remedies

Dr Andy Whittamore looks at whether alternative treatments for asthma really work

Author: Dr Andy Whittamore
Date: 9 May 2017

As a GP, and especially working alongside the brilliant Asthma UK helpline nurses, I hear a lot of people with asthma desperate for that magic bullet to take away their asthma.

Asthma UK puts a lot of effort into helping scientists to continue their work towards finding a cure. Their efforts are producing exciting results, but ones that will not reach patients for a few years yet. Meanwhile there are many people suffering the disabling effects of asthma or experiencing life-threatening asthma attacks.

Three people every day die from asthma. On average two of these three deaths can be prevented through better care.

Because asthma can be such a debilitating condition it is natural for people to look for other solutions. Some people are also attracted to ‘natural’ therapies. Sometimes this is due to desperation, and sometimes it is due to a dislike or fear of medication and possible side effects. We get asked on a regular basis about salt therapies, homeopathy and herbal remedies. Asthma experts agree that there is no evidence to recommend these interventions.

The reason these potential treatments are ineffective is that, for the majority of people with asthma, their symptoms (and their risk of life-threatening asthma attacks) is related to inflammation within the airways. The inflammation causes twitchiness and mucus in the lungs which in turn lead to chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and breathlessness.

Airways inflammation is best treated by inhaled corticosteroid medication. These inhalers deliver very small amounts of the steroid where they are needed. Side effects are rare and can be minimised by using the inhaler correctly. You can find out more about asthma medicines: how they work, the best way to take them on our advice page. Corticosteroid medication is important in helping to manage asthma, so it could be dangerous to reduce or stop these treatments without support from your GP or asthma nurse.

There is no evidence to support salt therapies, homeopathy or herbal remedies, but there are some simple and safe measures that people with asthma can take:

  • Take your preventative (corticosteroid) medication regularly as prescribed;
  • Have a written asthma action plan to help you to do the right things when you are getting symptoms;
  • Attend your asthma reviews with your GP or asthma nurse;
  • Seek additional support if you are using your reliever inhaler 3 or more times per week;
  • Understand and manage your triggers (weather, pollution, allergies, smoking).

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Dr Andy Whittamore is a GP based in Hampshire, specialising in respiratory care. He’s Asthma UK’s in-house GP, where he works on building relationships with key opinion leaders in respiratory care, identifying emerging issues in asthma, and providing the charity with clinical expertise.