Researchers have found that asthmatics who live in the inner city tend to use their inhalers less and have worse symptoms, but why? Is it because these patients rely too much on unproven herbal remedies? Or are they turning to alternative treatments because they aren’t getting enough relief from their medications?
These questions certainly pose a paradox, but the research suggests that doctors treating asthma patients should ask about their patients’ use of herbal remedies, particularly if their asthma isn’t under control. Many researchers feel that while alternative medicine may be acceptable for some patients with preferences for using these products, it needs to be used in conjunction with prescribed inhalers.
Treatment Beyond Inhalers
As many as four in five adults with asthma report having used complementary or alternative medicines, according to a recent study. Researchers are studying whether patients are using these products in place of inhalers, which are considered essential to asthma control. In order to further evaluate the issue, they surveyed patients with persistent asthma being treated at outpatient clinics in East Harlem, New York City, and in New Brunswick, NJ.
Researchers asked 326 adult patients the following question: “Sometimes people use home remedies, such as teas, rubs, and herbs for asthma. In the past six months, have you used any of these remedies?” They also rated how well patients had their asthma under control and gave them questionnaires on their knowledge and beliefs about asthma.
They found that the 25% of patients who used herbal remedies were actually better informed about the lung inflammation at the heart of asthma than those who did not use the remedies. Herb users were more likely to be worried about the side effects of their inhalers, and had more trouble following their medication schedule. This may suggest a reason why they used their inhalers less than they were supposed to. It could also explain why they had worse disease symptoms than those who did not use the remedies. But conversely, severity of illness may lead patients to use herbal remedies as a last resort when conventional therapy is not working.
Whether or not either of these explanations is true, the researchers advise healthcare workers to have a nonjudgmental conversation about strategies to improve patients’ asthma control. Each patient is unique and has different asthma triggers, and no two patient lifestyles are alike. Open communication is key to understanding what treatment will work to allow anyone to live with their asthma.