Acupuncture for the Treatment of Asthma

By Craig Amrine

asthmaAccording to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), nearly 6.7 million or 9.1 % of children were being treated for asthma in the United States in 2007. In that same year, 16.2 million or 7.3 % of adults were being treated for asthma. Among those, over 3,500 died. What if this disease was not only treatable, but treatable in a way that could lower or even eliminate the need for inhalers and drugs? These drugs and inhalers are not only costly and inconvenient, they have several serious health risks and side-effects. The solution lies in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

What is Asthma?

What exactly is Asthma? A simple explanation is that asthma is a partial and temporary obstruction of the airways in the lungs.  This obstruction is due to inflammation of the airways, contraction or spasms of the muscles around the bronchi, and excessive mucous in the bronchi of the lungs. This combination leads to wheezing and shortness of breath (dyspnea) that is commonly referred to an “asthma-attack”.  These attacks can range from being simply annoying to life threatening.  What causes this? Asthma can be divided into two types: Atopic or allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma.

Atopic asthma, as the name implies, is due to a hypersensitivity to airborne particles or allergens. An immunoglobulin E (IgE) immune reaction occurs where mast cells that line the bronchi surface release a series of enzymes including serotonin, histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These substances trigger early-stage bronco-spasms in the lungs. After this initial phase, other chemicals including eosinophils and leukotrienes are released that lead to both inflammation of the  bronchial lining and the release of mucous. This triple threat of spasms, inflammation, and mucous causes the feeling of suffocation that is so common with severe asthma attacks. To put it simply, asthma sufferers exhibit an immune response that is not self-limiting and is disproportionate to the airborne irritant.

Why do some people suffer with this allergic reaction while others do not? More importantly, why are the reported cases of allergic asthma on the rise? For reasons not fully understood, healthy individuals exhibit a series of self-limiting factors that prevent excessive immune response that asthmatics lack. One of the possible explanations is due to the Hygiene Theory(1). This theory suggests that atopic asthma is due to a lack of infections in infancy and the overuse of antibiotics and immunizations. Other theories suggest that IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies, which are known to help control IgE based allergic reactions, are lacking in infants pre-disposed to allergic asthma. Since IgG antibodies are the only immunoglobulins that can cross from the mother to the fetus, it’s thought that premature separation of the umbilical cord during child-birth can lead to an IgG deficiency in newborns, and consequently a higher chance of IgE mediated allergic reactions.

Regardless of the initial cause, atopic asthma is usually first seen in early childhood and is most often triggered by allergens including animal dander, pollen, and waste products of dust mites. The allergic response will reach its full reaction within 20 minutes of exposure to the allergens.

Non-allergic asthma, in contrast, is not triggered by allergens. Instead, it may be brought on by exercise or infections and often occurs later in life. While it also may be triggered by airborne irritants and cause bronco-constriction and inflammation, they do not induce an unregulated immune response.