Acupuncture for Asthma

Asthma is a common chronic respiratory disease in which the airways occasionally constrict, causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness of the chest and coughing. Episodes can be triggered by allergens, cold or warm air, stress or exertion. One in every five households in the UK contains someone who suffers with asthma, and the disease seems to be on the rise especially among children, with 12% of children in the UK currently being treated for asthma.

There is currently no widely recognised cure for asthma, and conventional treatment aims to control symptoms when they arise and perhaps to prevent them arising with pharmaceutical drugs, either taken using an inhaler or by mouth. Although modern medications for acute asthma attacks clearly save lives, both they and the medications that are designed to manage the condition can have unpleasant side-effects.

Asthma and TCM

The natural movement of the Qi of the Lungs is downward, and most of the symptoms of asthma are due to this downward movement of Qi being weakened or inhibited. The primary focus of treatment, therefore, is to help the Lung Qi to descend freely. This can be done with acupuncture, perhaps supported by Chi Kung exercises.

However, treatment also needs to address the underlying disharmonies which are blocking the descent of the Lung Qi. These vary from patient to patient. Quite often the culprit is Phlegm which can be trapped in the Lungs; this may or may not manifest as something which can be expectorated. It can be cleared by acupuncture, herbal therapy, cupping and perhaps by modifications to the food we eat.

Some kinds of asthma, on the other hand, are due to deficiencies of the body’s defensive Qi, a concept which is somewhat similar to the immune system in Western medicine. If the Defensive Qi is weak, the body, and especially the Lungs, are vulnerable to attack from external pathogens. These repeated attacks again inhibit the free descent of the Lung Qi, as well as gradually weakening the Lungs over time. Treatment here will be targeted to strengthen the Defensive Qi, again using acupuncture, herbal therapy and perhaps Chi Kung.

Whilst traditionally in China asthma sufferers would rely solely on Chinese medicine to control their condition, nowadays in the West TCM is more often used alongside conventional therapy.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Asthma?

Reviews of a number of trials of acupuncture treatment for asthma conducted in the 1990’s1,2 found evidence for the effectiveness of such treatment and suggested the use of acupuncture alongside conventional therapy could reduce the need for medication, especially corticosteroids.

A study in 2000 investigated the immunomodulatory effects of acupuncture on patients with allergic asthma, and concluded that these effects were significant, thus illustrating its effectiveness in strengthening the body’s natural immune defences in allergic asthma.3

Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO)4 classifies bronchial asthma as a condition for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown, and other studies are reviewed in a document produced by the Acupuncture Research Resource Centre (ARRC) show, among other positive results, that nine out of ten Asthma patients treated with Acupuncture in one study experienced relief from breathlessness, and between 87% and 98% of patients included in separate studies between 1985 and 1993 showed improvement in their symptoms.


1 Jobst KA (1996) Acupuncture in Asthma and Pulmonary Disease: An Analysis of Efficacy and Safety. J Alt Compl Med 2 (1): 179—206.

2 Jobst KA et al (1986) Controlled trial of acupuncture for disabling breathlessness. Lancet Dec 20-27 (8521-22):1416-19.

3 Joos S et al )(2000) Immunomodulatory effects of acupuncture in the treatment of allergic asthma: a randomized controlled study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 6(6):519-525

4 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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