Acupuncture and Asthma
by Becky Rubright, A.P. : February 2010

Asthma is a serious illness that doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all ages, ethnic groups, genders, economic status, and in all geographical areas. Asthma may not seem like something that can be treated with Acupuncture but it can be and very effectively. In fact, the younger someone is, the more likely treatment with acupuncture and herbs will completely resolve the problem and allow them to live without asthma. This is also true for adults who have only had asthma for a relatively short period of time. For adults who have been living with asthma for longer, treatment can still greatly improve their condition and perhaps resolve it. This sounds amazing but from my own experience I can say that it is true.

Asthma is characterized by a few key symptoms. Generally people experience some or all of the following; coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. According to traditional Western medicine these problems result from the constriction, or narrowing, of the air passageways in the lungs, the bronchial tubes. When an asthma attack occurs it is usually triggered by something in the environment like smoke, pollen, other allergens like pet dander, and even stress. Treatment from a Western perspective involves first trying to eliminate the things that may be triggering the attacks. Following this, two types of medicinal treatment are used; bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories. Bronchodilators are used to re-open the narrowed air tubes to your lungs, allowing air to move freely in and out when you breathe. This is a fine temporary fix. The anti-inflammatories are a little more problematic. They work on the idea that your bronchial tubes are inflamed and swollen and this is why they have narrowed, reducing airflow to your lungs. They are generally corticosteroids that you inhale thru an inhaler and they do reduce inflammation. However, the problem arises in long term use. Most forms of steroid medicine become less effective with long term use and the damage to the delicate tissue of the lungs can accumulate so that serious problems happen because of the treatment. This is not an ideal situation.

Asthma treatment from an Oriental medicine point of view is quite different. The symptoms are exactly the same but the reason for their presence is different. I’ve talked before about the idea of Qi (pronounced “chee”) and the role it plays in making sure all functions within the body run smoothly. When health issues are present, you look first to the quality of the Qi in the system being disturbed. All of the symptoms of asthma, the wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and tightness in the chest, correspond to a clear cut diagnosis of Lung Qi Deficiency. It is actually a simple matter of strengthening the Lung Qi with herbs and acupuncture until they are functioning properly on their own again. Depending on the severity and length of the problem treatment can be anywhere from 1 month to 4 months, receiving treatment once a week.

I am not trying to over simplify a serious illness but it truly is that easy to work on in an Oriental medicine framework. I also want to make clear that I am in no way advocating that people using inhalers for serious asthma throw them away. During the course of treatment with Oriental medicine, you will slowly need to use them less and less, but it would be wise to still keep them handy if an overwhelming attack occurs. However, the end goal of treatment using Oriental medicine is to free you from them, while, unfortunately, the solution offered by Western medicine is a lifetime supply of medication.

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