Asthma and Oriental Medicine

Asthma Basics: Anyone who has had or is close to someone who has had an asthma attack knows the characteristic shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and feeling of suffocation, as well as the nervousness, fear or panic that ensues. It varies in severity, from a minor health complaint to a severe life-threatening and debilitating condition requiring constant awareness and management. Asthma is characterized by three main problems in the lung airways: obstruction, inflammation, and hyper-responsiveness. Though the triggers vary from person to person, it has been determined that an inflammation of the airway leads to a contraction of the airway muscles, production of mucous and swelling of the airways.

Asthma is on the Rise: According to the Asthma and Allergy foundation of America, as of 2001, an estimated 17 million Americans suffer from asthma. 5 million are under the age of 18. 1 in every 20 children is affected by this chronic disease. Everyday, 14 Americans die from asthma. And, the Center for Disease Control expects that the number of Americans with asthma will rise to 30 million by the year 2020.

Triggers of Asthma: It is commonly known that asthma triggers include respiratory allergens, (such as pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust mites), as well as irritants (such as cigarette smoke, household cleaners, room fresheners, candles, incense, paint, varnish, talcum powder, chalk dust, etc.). Respiratory infections such as colds or flu's can trigger attacks, as can sensitivity to medication, exercise, reflux and stress. Some people are unaware that diet plays a major role; dairy products and refined sugars are common culprits, as is dehydration. Many also find that the sulfites in wine can trigger wheezing.

Causes of Asthma: Why do some people have asthma, and others do not? This is the subject of many studies, most of which have barely begun to scratch the surface of why people have asthma. Here is a small sampling of some findings so far:

A study published in the Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, which involves statistics of 13,944 children over an 8-year period, has led the Institute of Medicine to conclude that children who receive tetanus or diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccines are twice as likely to have asthma, experience severe allergy-related symptoms, and have sinusitis.

Also, a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concludes that children who are exposed to cigarette smoke at an early age experience a decline in lung function, and have a 50% greater chance of being diagnosed with asthma by age 6, than children who grow up in nonsmoking families.

Yet another study shows that asthma is a potential side effect of Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Western Medical Treatments: Most asthma is managed by pharmaceutical medications, which do a beautiful job of life-saving, acute care. Given an emergency situation, pharmaceuticals are the best option. But, in respect to long-term management, pharmaceutical medications do nothing to address the underlying cause of why someone has the disease. Nor do they promote overall health and wellbeing, or decrease the need for more pharmaceutical medication. In fact, the long term use of asthma medications may actually cause the need for more medication in the long-run. And the side effects can be detrimental:

Side effects of everyday asthma medications, such as bronchodilators include nausea, vomiting, headaches, nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia. And those of corticosteroids include reduction in a person's ability to cope with and recover from trauma, surgery and infection, as well as dry mouth, suppressed growth in children, coughing, increased appetite, fluid retention, weight gain, increased cholesterol, osteoporosis, thinning of the skin, diabetes and cataracts.

Other common asthma drugs have side effects such as hives, abdominal pain, ulcers, seizures, vomiting blood, increased liver enzymes, and reversible hepatitis.

Though unsurpassed for emergency situations, pharmaceutical medications for long-term management do not promote overall health and wellbeing, and can actually be detrimental. Just because our society has come to believe that negative side effects are a normal and necessary part of medicine doesn't mean there aren't safer options.

How Oriental Medicine Addresses Asthma: Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been used successfully in China to treat illnesses for over 3500 years, and research has shown that acupuncture can be very effective for respiratory diseases including asthma. The National Institute of Health has stated that "The data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies.…One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions."

Acupuncture can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks: A study conducted at the Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care in the University Hospital of Vienna showed that over 70% of patients with long-standing asthma reported a significant improvement of their ailments after ten weeks of acupuncture treatment. In another study, Scientists at the Department of Acupuncture, Second Municipal People's Hospital, Kaifeng City, China, studied 192 patients suffering from bronchial asthma, all of whom were treated by acupuncture. There was an immediate total effective rate of 98.9%, and a marked improvement in 76.5% of the patients.

According to Oriental Medicine, asthma is actually an indicator of an underlying health imbalance in the body. Oriental Medicine treats the whole person, and addresses the underlying cause of the problem, rather than just the symptoms. Acupuncturists look at all lifestyle and environmental factors when deciding the best course of treatment. Skilled at recognizing the specific pattern of symptoms of disharmony for each individual and then treating it, using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, Acupuncturists today are using the same principles and methods that have proven themselves over 3500 years, with billions of people. These methods build the health of the entire person, effectively reducing and, in some cases, altogether eliminating the symptoms.

Note: If you are currently taking asthma medication it is very important that you continue taking it. Acupuncture treatment will assist the goal of your current therapy. If you are interested in decreasing or eliminating your prescription medications, we would need to consult with your current doctor and work gradually toward that goal.


By Dawn Balusik, Dr., AP, DOM, LMT

Dawn Balusik is an Acupuncture Physician, Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Certified Chinese Herbalist at Countryside Wellness Center in Clearwater. Having had personal experience with Endometriosis, she developed a passion to help women with this disease. Reach her at 727-724-0488.

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