The use of complementary or alternative medicine has increased tremendously in the West with more and more people believing in its benefits.
Alternative medicine includes the use of herbals, vitamins and other supplements, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic medicine, massage therapy, and Ayurveda.
Often included into this mix are energy therapies such as Qi gong and bioelectromagnetic treatments, as well as mind-body practices that encompass prayer, meditation or even dance.
"Although the most commonly used CAM is related to prayer, the most commonly reported CAM adverse events tend to be 'allergic' reactions from herbal agents that include urticaria, contact dermatitis, and anaphylaxis," said Dr. Bielory.
"There has been a recent surge of interest in TCM in Western countries, as it is low-cost and has shown favorable safety profiles," said Xiu-Min Li, MD, an associate professor of Pediatric Allergy & Immunology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
Herbal therapy is in the mainstream of modern medical practice in China for treating asthma, although the role for TCM in Western countries has not been established as there are no FDA-approved botanical drugs for treating asthma.
Another area of growing interest is in the use of probiotics to both treat and prevent allergic disorders. Probiotics are
cultures of potentially beneficial bacteria of the healthy gut microflora.
"Microflora or healthy bacteria within the gut appear to be an important part of our mucosal protection while also supporting healthy bowel functions," said Renata J M Engler, M D, from the Uniformed Service University of Health Sciences at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.
"When the healthy bacterial flora is disrupted as with antibiotic therapy, illnesses such as vaginitis and serious bowel infections may occur more easily. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that the healthy bacteria may interact beneficially with the immune system overall."