More than 20 million Americans, or 1 in 15 people, suffer from asthma. People with asthma experience wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and/or chest tightness in response to a number of possible triggers.
Symptoms of an asthma attack are usually controlled by a steroid inhaler; many people also take other medications to reduce the frequency of episodes. While often effective, Western medications for asthma have a number of short-term side effects as well as possible long-term health consequences, and many people are interested in other, non-drug approaches.
Acupuncture and herbs can be very helpful both in alleviating acute symptoms and preventing future asthma attacks. Acupuncture can ease breathing during an asthma attack, but more importantly, ongoing treatment addresses the causes of asthma and works to decrease the sensitivity of the airways and reduce the number of asthma attacks.
Chinese medicine diagnoses several different types and causes of asthma. “Excess” type asthma describes situations where something obstructs or constricts the flow of air in the lung. Phlegm or “heat” (think, inflammation, in this case) can clog the air passages. Or, stagnation of qi in the chest can prevent the Lung from moving and working properly. (Stress-induced asthma usually belongs to this pattern.)
“Deficient” type asthma occurs when the body’s qi is not strong enough to pull in enough air from the environment. (Exercise-induced asthma usually falls in this category.) In these cases, Lung qi always needs to be supplemented. Treatment may also focus on nourishing the Spleen, which directly supports the Lung, especially if there is an element of food allergy or digestive sensitivity. Kidney qi may also be treated. It sounds weird, but in Chinese medicine the Kidney play a role in bringing the breath into the body. If inhalation is more difficult than exhalation, the Kidneys are usually involved.
Allergy-related asthma is also common, and often aggravated at this time of year. This type of asthma is treated with a combination of techniques to strengthen and support the breathing, calm the allergic response, and open up air passages. Many people with allergic asthma also have eczema or other skin responses; these also respond remarkably well to Chinese medical treatment. For more information on treating allergies and eczema with acupuncture, see the postings under “respiratory” and “skin”.