Background: Childhood asthma is the most common chronic illness of childhood. The highest prevalence of childhood asthma in the United States occurs in the Puerto Rican community, and there are many traditional beliefs and practices regarding asthma that coexist with biomedical therapies.
Objectives: To describe the ethnomedical treatment practices for childhood asthma in one mainland United States Puerto Rican community and to determine whether any of these practices are effective or potentially harmful.
Method: Home interview with caretakers of 118 Puerto Rican children with asthma who seek care at two community health clinics in an inner city in the eastern United States.
Results: Common home-based ethnomedical practices include attempts to maintain physical and emotional balance and harmony, religious practices, and ethnobotanical and other therapies. Potentially harmful practices are uncommon, and other remedies are only harmful if not taken as directed. Many remedies are not effective from a biomedical standpoint (ie, bronchodilation or antiinflammation), but if analyzed within the ethnomedical explanatory model--which includes the belief that expulsion of mucus and phlegm from the body is beneficial for the treatment of asthma--these remedies bring about the desired effect and are therefore considered effective to the user.
Conclusions: Ethnomedical therapies for asthma in the mainland Puerto Rican community are well known and commonly used. Most practices are not idiosyncratic but fit within a coherent ethnocultural belief system. The health care practitioner can lower the risk for potentially toxic effects of some treatments by discussing these practices with patients and families. Some ethnomedical practices are not discordant with biomedical therapy. Incorporation of these practices into the biomedical plan may help to fit the biomedical therapy into the lifestyle of the patient.