The use of complementary/alternative medicine for the treatment of asthma in the United States

P. A. Davis, Ellen B Gold, P. M. Hackman, J. S. Stern, M. Eric Gershwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Despite our advances in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma, the incidence of mortality is increasing in developed countries. As patients and health care providers seek new options for the treatment and prevention of asthma, various complementary and alternative medical therapies are being used. With funding from the Office of Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health, our goal was to identify the type and prevalence of complementary and alternative treatments for asthma in use in the United States in order to establish a research agenda for the study of the most promising therapies. A survey was developed by an expert panel. After undergoing a preliminary round of testing and improvement, the survey was then sent along with a postage-paid return envelope as inserts in the May 1996 issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, a peer-reviewed periodical of complementary and alternative medical research and scholarly activity; 10,000 surveys were distributed. We asked that only those who treated asthma respond. The surveys were designed to identify characteristics of the respondent, their particular practice type, use of complementary and alternative medicine, or conventional medicine in general, patient characteristics and numbers, and their use of 20 specific potential therapies to treat asthma. A total of 564 surveys were returned. The 5.64% response rate was low but was reflective of the demographics of the readership of this journal of complementary and alternative medicine. The survey population was 46% male and 43% female; 11% did not specify gender. They ranged in age from under 31 years old to over 70. The largest group (37%) of respondents held degrees as medical doctors, 27% held doctorates in complementary and alternative medicine related disciplines, 11% had registered nursing degrees, 4% were acupuncturists and 18% did not specify their training. Practice characteristics between MD and non-MD asthma care providers did not differ. The majority had general practices (75%) seeing all ages of patients. MDs were less likely to employ complementary and alternative medicine techniques for asthma compared to non-MDs. Both groups identified dietary and nutritional approaches as their most prevalent and useful asthma treatment option. Use of botanicals, meditation and homeopathy were frequently cited; statistically significant differences appeared in the rankings of treatment usefulness and prevalence between MD and non-MDs. Non-MD asthma care providers were more likely to ask patients about their use of complementary and alternative treatments for asthma than MDs (92% vs. 70%), while both groups showed statistically significant increases in their levels of patient inquiries compared to 2 years previously (up 9% and 8% for MDs and non-MDs respectively). The predominance of diet and nutrition supplementation used by MDs and non-MDs suggests that further attention and research efforts should be directed toward this area of complementary and alternative practice. Other complementary and alternative medicine practices such as botanicals, meditation and homeopathy appear to warrant research efforts. Differences between MDs and non-MDs in their use of such therapies may reflect different philosophies as well as training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-77
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998


  • Alternative practice
  • Asthma
  • Nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy


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