- Home remedies for asthma include breathing exercises, yoga, dietary changes, and natural herbs.
- Breathing exercises like pursed-lip breathing and deep belly breathing help clear stale air from lungs and allow you take in more oxygen.
- To relieve asthma symptoms, you may also want to include more foods that fight inflammation in your diet, like leafy greens, fatty fish, and nuts.
- This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
About 1 in 13 Americans have asthma, a disease that causes your airway to narrow, making it harder to breathe. There are several different medications prescribed to treat asthma, but many people also find home remedies like yoga or acupuncture useful as part of their treatment.
There are no home remedies for an asthma attack – you should always stick to your care plan and get medical help if needed. But these home remedies can help ease everyday symptoms like coughing and sleeping issues.
Here are some research-backed methods you can use to help relieve your asthma symptoms.
Breathing exercises for asthma
People with asthma often have different breathing patterns than healthy people – asthmatics may breathe more quickly or have uneven breath lengths. This can lead to stale air building up in your lungs and leaving less room for your diaphragm, the muscle that sits underneath your lungs, to expand and bring in new oxygen.
One way to change this is by using breathing exercises. The goal of breathing exercises is to help you get rid of stale air, take in more fresh oxygen, and train your diaphragm to move normally while you breathe.
Practicing breathing techniques can also help you feel more in control of your breathing, which can be difficult for people with asthma, says Maureen George, PhD, RN, a professor at Columbia School of Nursing who specializes in respiratory disease.
Two of the most common exercises you can use are pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic or belly breathing.
Pursed lip breathing
Pursed lip breathing can help to slow down your breathing and keep your airways open for longer periods. This allows more oxygen to flow into your lungs in each breath. You can do this by following these steps:
- Breathe in through your nose with your mouth closed while counting to two.
- Purse your lips as if you are going to blow out a match.
- Blow out through pursed lips while counting to four, without forcing the air out.
- Keep breathing like this until your breathing feels easier.
Diaphragmatic or belly breathing
This kind of breathing can help you engage your diaphragm to fully empty your lungs, rather than using your chest muscles for more shallow breathing. You can do this by taking these steps:
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Breathe in through your nose, feeling your belly rise.
- Breathe out through your mouth for twice as long as your inhale, feeling your belly fall.
- Repeat these steps, trying to keep your chest still and let your belly do the work to rise and fall with each breath.
For both of these exercises, it's best to practice for 5-10 minutes each day. Try to practice while your breathing is normal, so you will be more comfortable using the exercises when you are feeling short of breath.
Yoga for asthma
Though more research is needed, there is some evidence that yoga can help relieve asthma symptoms. A review of 15 studies published in 2016 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that asthmatics who practiced yoga for as little as two weeks saw modest improvements in their symptoms and their overall quality of life.
This means that while yoga cannot be used as a standalone treatment for asthma, it may be helpful to add it to your treatment regimen. Yoga may offer benefits for several reasons:
- Many yoga classes incorporate breathing exercises like belly breathing, which can help empty your lungs more fully.
- Yoga can help reduce stress, which is a common trigger for asthma.
- Yoga can help improve your posture, which can make breathing easier. This is because slouching forward can make your chest muscles tighten, making it harder to take full breaths.
If you are not used to physical exercise, it may be helpful to keep your inhaler nearby while doing yoga, in case you feel short of breath.
Diet for asthma
While there is no evidence that a specific diet or group of foods prevents or treats asthma, improving your overall health through a healthy diet can have a positive effect.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease, which means that your immune system overreacts to non-harmful substances like pollen in your airways. While an inflammatory reaction can help protect you when a dangerous particle enters your body, it can also cause symptoms like swelling in your airways that can restrict your breathing.
For this reason, it may help asthma symptoms to eat foods that fight inflammation. "I would recommend a whole food diet that is high in antioxidants, live cultures, and omega-3 fatty acids," George says. This type of diet should include:
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Berries like cherries and raspberries
- Whole grains like oats and brown rice
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Nuts and beans
- Yogurt, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods
Other foods can make asthma symptoms worse, particularly if you have allergic asthma. Herbs like echinacea and chamomile can set off symptoms because they are members of the ragweed family, which is a common hay fever trigger, George says.
Eating foods that cause gas may also set off symptoms if gas pressure builds up and presses on your diaphragm, which can affect your breathing and make your chest feel tight. For this reason, you may want to avoid gas-producing foods like:
- Onions and garlic
- Vegetables like broccoli and cabbage
- Carbonated drinks
Asthma symptoms can also be set off by compounds called sulfites that are found in dried fruits, red wine, and some pickled foods.
Herbal remedies for asthma
Herbs alone cannot treat asthma, but adding natural supplements into your treatment may help relieve your symptoms. But before trying any natural supplement, you should always check with your doctor or asthma specialist.
Two herbal remedies that may help ease asthma symptoms include:
A small study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that people who took 500mg capsules of turmeric twice per day on top of their usual asthma treatment had less airway obstruction and better airflow from their lungs, compared to people getting only their regular treatment. This may be because turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects.
Honey has long been used as a remedy for cough, and eating a spoonful of honey may be as effective as taking prescription cough medicine. This may be because honey coats your throat and can have a soothing effect.
A study published in 2007 in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences found that children with asthma who inhaled honey as a mist through a nebulizer saw improvements in wheezing and shortness of breath, and had more productive coughs, but doctors warn that you should not try this at home.
The bottom line
Asthma is a common condition that can cause serious health issues if it isn't properly treated. If you have asthma, it's important to have regular checkups with a specialist to create an individualized treatment plan that works for you. Adding home remedies to your routine like breathing exercises or yoga can help make your symptoms better, but always check with your doctor before adding in any new treatment.