Today, people are almost as familiar with the herbal supplement echinacea as they are with aspirin. So it?s no surprise that many Americans are turning to complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies to treat their allergy and asthma symptoms. When it comes to conditions for which people seek out nontraditional treatments, studies suggest that asthma and allergies are second only to lower back pain. It?s estimated that allergies affect 40 to 50 million Americans, and about 20 million have asthma. While herbal supplements and other complementary and alternative therapies, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, may ease some symptoms, experts say people have to be careful about which CAM treatment they choose. Not only are some people with allergies particularly susceptible to adverse drug reactions, but there is also a chance that some alternative remedies may interact with other medications. Why Go Alternative? You may wonder why people are turning to alternatives when there are many medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that successfully treat asthma and allergies. Like many people with chronic medical conditions, those who suffer from asthma and allergies are often particularly interested in trying new, ?natural? treatments. However, natural doesn?t necessarily mean without side effects, and just like medications made by pharmaceutical companies, ?natural? products can be powerful and toxic. Another driving force behind the move toward alternative remedies may be the high cost of allergy and asthma medicines, says Dr. Gailen Marshall, a professor of medicine and director of the clinical immunology, asthma and allergy division at the University of Mississippi in Jackson. For example, some patients who have both allergies and asthma may choose to only treat their asthma to cut costs. But they may run into trouble quickly, because flaring allergies can worsen asthma symptoms. When this happens, Marshall says, people are more inclined to turn to CAM therapies, which are typically less expensive than prescriptions. Specific CAM Side Effects But is the possibility of more serious side effects. Specifically, Bielory found that echinacea, used for the common cold and for upper respiratory tract allergies, carries some risk of liver toxicity. There have also been some reports linking echinacea to asthma attacks, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, and worsening of asthma and allergies symptoms. People with pollen allergies or sensitivity to sunflower seeds or melons may be more likely to have an adverse reaction to echinacea. Likewise, bee pollen, a CAM therapy sometimes used for asthma and allergies, has been shown to trigger sore throat and breathing problems. It should never be used by people who are allergic to bee pollen since it could lead to anaphylactic shock. Ginkgo biloba, which has been shown to expand the air passages in the lungs, is sometimes recommended to people with asthma. But Bielory points out that ginkgo biloba interacts with warfarin (Coumadin), a blood-thinning medication, and can make it less effective. Physicians also caution people about using ginkgo biloba in combination with aspirin, or other non-steroid anti-inflammatories, since it can intensify the potency of these drugs and lead to serious complications. Stress reduction techniques, such as biofeedback and hypnosis, are relatively safe and free of side effects. Some studies, including one conducted by Marshall, have demonstrated that chronic anxiety and depression play a role in asthma. So stress management, Marshall says, from counseling to CAM approaches, may help certain patients control their asthma and perhaps their allergy symptoms.