Background: There are few data on the use of alternative therapies in adult asthma and their impact on health outcomes.
Objective: The objective of this study was to study the prevalence and morbidity of asthma self-treatment with herbs, coffee or black tea, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications containing ephedrine or epinephrine.
Methods: We carried out a cross-sectional analysis of interview data for 601 adults with asthma recruited from a random sample of pulmonary and allergy specialists. We estimated the 12-month prevalence of reported use of herbal products, coffee or black tea, or OTC products to self-treat asthma and their association with emergency department visits and hospitalization.
Results: Herbal asthma self-treatment was reported by 46 (8%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 6% to 10%); coffee or black tea self-treatment by 36 (6%; 95% CI 4% to 8%), epinephrine or ephedrine OTC use by 36 (6%; 95% CI 4% to 8%), and any of the three practices by 98 subjects (16%; 95% CI 13% to 19%). Adjusting for demographic and illness covariates, herbal use (odds ratio [OR] 2.5; 95% CI 1.1 to 5.6) and coffee or black tea use (OR 3.1; 95% CI 1.2 to 7.8) were associated with asthma hospitalization; OTC use was not (OR 0.8; 95% CI 0.3 to 2.5).
Conclusions: Even among adults with access to specialty care for asthma, self-treatment with nonprescription products was common and was associated with increased risk of reported hospitalization. This association does not appear to be accounted for by illness severity or other disease covariates. It may reflect delay in utilization of more efficacious treatments.