Half of Asthma Patients Use Complementary Therapies

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A significant number of patients use vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal remedies, and drink coffee and tea for relief of asthma and rhinitis symptoms. These practices could cause additional health problems and may even have life-threatening adverse effects, researchers warned here at CHEST 2006, the 72nd annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Paul D. Blanc, MD, FCCP, and colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco conducted interviews with 375 patients with asthma and/or rhinitis at baseline and again 2 years later. Dr. Blanc said that 15% of patients had asthma without rhinitis, 70% had asthma with rhinitis, and 56% had rhinitis alone.

The investigators prospectively compared physical health status and the use of complementary and alternative medicines for alleviation of symptoms.

Dr. Blanc reported that:

  • 30% of patients used oral vitamins and minerals;
  • 21% used herbal therapies;
  • 18% adjusted their coffee and tea intake;
  • 13% used caffeine-containing preparations;
  • 14% used dietary supplements, such as garlic and chili pepper; and
  • 8% used homeopathic methods.

In all, 50% of all patients used at least one of the above remedies. Of that group, 23% used a single remedy, 27% used 2 or more, and 7% used 4 to 6 of the remedies.

Non-oral remedies, such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, aromatherapy, and chiropractic therapy were used by 20%, most of whom also used oral complementary and alternative medicines.

Patients who reported poorer physical health were more likely to use alternative therapies than those who reported feeling better. Airway disease diagnosis was not associated with use of complementary and alternative medicines.

"Use of nonspecific sympathomimetic products such as ephedra or caffeine to treat asthma symptoms could carry risk and could multiply risk of prescription medications that act in a similar way," Dr. Blanc, who is also on the editorial board of Respiratory Research, said in an interview with Medscape after his presentation. "Use of CAM in place of prescription medication, rather than in addition to, could be risky," he pointed out.

Dr. Blanc advised his colleagues that "[u]se of CAM could carry benefits and risks and should be approached as any other form of medical treatment would be."

"I don't have any problem with relaxation techniques [and] massage therapy, but I don't recommend the use of complementary medicines, because we don't know if they work or if they interact adversely with prescribed medications," Mark J. Rosen, MD, president of the American College of Chest Physicians, told Medscape. Dr. Rosen is affiliated with Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

"Black coffee and teas, in particular, could cause problems such as increased heart rate and nausea. They have the same effects as aminophylline and theophylline," Dr. Rosen pointed out. "Reactions with ephredra could be horrible." He added, "Some coffee is OK, but people need to know their limits."

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