Asthma is a very common condition. It is affecting approximately 300 million people worldwide estimated by WHO. Its typical symptoms are wheezing (a whistling noise in the chest), shortness of breath, coughing and a tight feeling in the chest caused by obstruction of the airways as a result of inflammation or muscle spasm. Asthma may begin at any age and, if neglected, tends to recur and become chronic.
Chinese herbal medicine has been used for asthma treatment for over thousand years. Zhang Zhongjing, was one of the most famous Chinese physicians in history. He established special medication theory and summed up the medical experience including asthma which is still effective and widely used by Chinese physicians. In general, Chinese herb medicine needs to be organised well in a complex formula to treat disease based on unique theory and diagnosis.
Is it really possible to eliminate asthma symptoms?
In actual TCM clinical practice, we do not aim only for symptom control of the asthma, but rather for its long term elimination. This is very achievable with a two pronged approach:
It is this second phase of treatment that makes TCM treatment priceless, because conventional medicine simply has not developed drugs that are able to accomplish this, leaving patients forever dependent on inhalers. [Read more: TCM vs Western Medicine]
What causes asthma?
In Oriental Medicine, there are many factors that may trigger an asthma attack. Examples include the invasion of the external pathogenic factors, diet, emotional disturbances, congenital weakness and chronic illnesses.
External pathogenic factors, such as cold or heat, commonly induce asthma attacks. In the TCM theory, the Lung system provide energy to the skin for defense against external pathogens. As the environment affects the skin, the change is reflected in the Lung. When the Lung is under attack, its function to regulate water passage becomes impaired, water begins to stagnate so patient start to have runny nose and white sputum. When the sputum further builds up and the body is weak in energy to remove them, therefore airway is obstructed causing difficulty in breathing.
Diet can also trigger asthma. Raw and cold food may injure the Spleen and tend to contribute to the stagnation of fluid circulation and the increase in the production of phlegm. Heavy, sweet, and greasy food tend to create phlegm and heat in the body. Fish, crabs, shellfish and other seafood have also been noted to increase the likelihood of asthma attacks as well. [Read more: Properties of food] [Read more: Cook your food - digestive system explained in Traditional Chinese medicine]
Congenital weakness and chronic illness are also common causes of asthma. Children with asthma generally have congenital Kidney Qi deficiency. On the other hand, chronic illness, such as patients with chronic cough and recurrent cold/flu, are likely to have Lung deficiency.
How Is Chinese Medicine Used to Treat Asthma?
Acupuncture Treatment for Asthma
Acupuncture can help to release naturally tensioned muscles and blockades without side-effects that are very common with conventional treatment methods such as inhalers. Acupuncture calms the body and relieves symptoms of an asthmatic attack. It also releases blockages in the meridian channels helping the defensive Qi to flow smoothly through the body. Scientifically Acupuncture can help to relax the parasympathetic nervous system and increase the release of neurotransmitters to the brain. Some patients already see improvements of their condition after their first acupuncture treatment.
A common approach is using body acupuncture that strengthens kidneys and lungs. Depending on the constitution of the patient and reason for the asthma condition a variety of different points are used.
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Asthma
Mixture of Chinese herbs helps to strengthen the lungs and immune system. Herbal treatment is efficient in reducing the likelihood of a return of an asthma attack. Based on the body constitution, asthma condition and origin and specific needs of the patient the practitioner will prescribe an herbal formula.
Common herbs used in the treatment of asthma and bronchitis are:
Apricot seed (Xing Ren), Bellflower root (Jie Geng), to eliminate phlegm and reduce wheezing
Licorice (Gan Cao) and Atractylodes macrocephala (Bai Zhu) to improve the supply of Qi and reduce coughing by promoting smooth circulation of Qi
Angelica (Dang Gui) to improve the blood circulation of the Lung system
Lumbricus (Di Long) to dilate the bronchioles and relieve wheezing
Lili (Bai He) and Glehniae Radix (Bei Sha Shen) for improving lung function