It's a breath of fresh air for asthma sufferers -- and yet that's all it is: Air.

Believe it or not, plain old air delivered via an asthma inhaler can actually bring as much relief as an inhaler filled with a common asthma med.

And that's nothing to wheeze at.

Researchers asked 39 asthma patients to make 12 visits to a medical clinic, spaced between three and seven days apart, to try one of four treatment options at each visit: an inhaler with the drug albuterol, an inhaler with plain air, sham acupuncture, or nothing at all.

By the end of the study, everyone had tried everything three times. And after each treatment (or lack of treatment), the volunteers were given tests to measure lung function and asked to rate their level of improvement on a scale of 1 to 10.

The only thing that didn't work much was no treatment at all -- and even that left some patients feeling at least a little better, with an average reported improvement of 21 percent.

The drug, empty inhaler and sham acupuncture, on the other hand, led to improvements of 50 percent, 45 percent and  6 percent, respectively -- a difference the researchers say was not statistically significant.

The drug did win when it came to more objective measures -- it actually did a much better job of opening the airways, boosting lung function by 20 percent versus 7 percent for everything else (including no treatment at all).

But here's the thing: The patients didn't actually feel the difference -- and that's what really counts, right?

It's not the first case of fake treatments leading to real relief: Other studies have shown that placebos can work for everything from pain to depression to stomach disorders.

One groundbreaking study found that placebos can even work when people know they're taking one.

But for a condition like asthma, a placebo alone often won't be enough.

Asthma is often triggered or worsened by weight, allergies (including food sensitivities) and stress -- and if you can get all three under control, you'll find yourself breathing easier than ever.

You might reach the point where you won't need an inhaler anymore -- even if it's just an empty one.