Asthma, the condition in which your airways become inflamed, can produce varying symptoms in affected individuals. It may be well-controlled or, it can cause serious and life-threatening flare ups. Asthma is a fairly common condition which causes millions of emergency room visits each year throughout North America.
The incidence of asthma is on the rise. Scientists aren’t sure why this is happening, but they have a couple of theories. One is that our over-sanitized environment, in which we aren’t exposed to the same germs as in the past, has weakened our immune systems. Second, there is more pollen and pollutants in the air than ever before, triggering asthma and allergies in many people.
Asthma is characterized by irritation, inflammation, and narrowing of your airways. It’s common for asthma sufferers to swing between periods of remission and active flare ups, or attacks. In most cases, attacks are set off by triggers, such as an allergen, smoke, a cold or flu, exercise, or cold air. The symptoms of an asthma attack include chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, which can be severe.
Because asthma is characterized by periods of remission and attacks, Western treatments involve combining long-term medications to control symptoms with short-term rescue medications to open your airways during an acute attack.
The underlying cause of asthma is unknown. There’s a strong relationship between having asthma and allergies, but they are not the same condition. Your risk of having asthma is higher if you have family members with this condition, and having respiratory infections as an infant or child also raise your risk. Asthma may also have autoimmune origins, in which your immune system mistakes harmless cells for invaders, as asthma responds well to immune suppressing drugs.
In Chinese medicine, asthma is considered to be an imbalance in various organ systems, and inflammation of your airways combined with chronic phlegm. In Chinese medicine the spleen, kidneys and lungs help regulate fluids and in turn they have an effect on phlegm. When it comes to asthma, there is always a certain amount of phlegm obstructing your lungs, even during periods of remission. Lung weakness or depletion, can produce symptoms such as a weak voice, mild shortness of breath, a weak cough, the sensation of feeling cold, and a low resistance to colds and the flu. This perpetual lung weakness combined with chronic phlegm is a major component in asthma
A further factor in Chinese medicine is that your lungs are an important part of your immune system. Immunity is viewed as something akin to a protective bubble surrounding your body, and its strength is based on the strength of your lungs and your overall energy. Therefore, weak lungs translate into weak immunity, allowing allergens and other triggers to wreak havoc, which can set off an asthma attack.
Practitioners of Chinese medicine will treat your asthma by diagnosing the source of your symptoms—why you have phlegm or lung weakness in the first place, and what other organ systems might be involved. They will also talk about triggers, other health issues you may have, and your overall constitution. Only then can they determine the best course of treatment, which may combine acupuncture with Chinese herbs, dietary guidelines, and lifestyle suggestions.
Emily Lewis is a registered acupuncturist and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine at BodaHealth in Vancouver, British Columbia.