Chinese Medicine’s Therapeutic Approach To Asthma Relief 

A man walking over a bridge on a sunny day.

Asthma is a health condition in which the lungs’ airways get chronically inflamed and narrowed, hindering the passage of air. Asthmatic patients suffer mainly from breathlessness.

Western medicine makes a distinction between allergic asthma and nonallergic asthma. Although these two conditions share the symptoms of breathlessness due to the narrowing and obstruction of the lung’s airways, they have different causes.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, nonallergic asthma is termed Xiao-Chuan (wheezing-breathlessness). It’s the primary syndrome that comprises all the characteristic symptoms of asthma such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness, as well as other symptoms related to individual complications of this disease. 

Table of Contents

Asthma in Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese medicine’s Five Phases theory, the Lung qi moves downward and is held down by the Kidneys. The Lungs control inhalation, while the Kidneys control exhalation. The Liver qi usually ascends and coordinates with the downward direction of the Lung qi.

Asthma occurs when the descending of the Lung qi is defective due to Lung Qi Deficiency or Kidney Deficiency. Phlegm is central to the pathology of Xiao Chuan. In atopic asthma on the other hand, Phlegm is not present, and wheezing is said to be caused by bronchoconstriction due to Wind blocking the Lung qi.

Atopic asthma happens due to a constitutional deficiency of the Lungs and Kidneys. The Lungs in Chinese medicine are responsible for governing the skin and pores. The appearance of eczemas in atopic asthma patients is thought to be caused by Lung Deficiency.

Atopic Asthma Prevalence Raise

Most Chinese medicine classic texts do not make reference to atopic asthma, which is thought to indicate that allergic asthma did not exist in China until recently. Statistics show that atopic disease prevalence increased significantly from the 1960s to the 1990s.

According to data from different scientific research, the surge of atopy is connected to several factors:

    • Use of antibiotics in early life

    • Paracetamol overuse

    • Environment pollution

    • Cesarean delivery

    • Junk food consumption

    • Excessive hygiene (Strachan’s hypothesis)

Some studies point out that a more anthroposophic lifestyle, such as living on a farm and getting infected during early childhood prevents allergies later in life.

It has been found that children from large families or those attending daycare have a lower prevalence of atopy than those from small families or those not attending daycare.

Besides, Children who have older siblings show a lesser likelihood of developing allergies compared to those who have younger siblings or no siblings. Countries with parasitic infestations show a low incidence of atopic diseases as well.

Dietary Habits and Asthma

According to Chinese Therapeutic Diet, certain foods are especially detrimental for patients with diagnosed asthma, even though these foods may not be necessarily unhealthy from a nutritional perspective. The foods that asthmatic patients must avoid are:

    1. Dairy. Dairy products produce Phlegm.

    1. Shellfish, spinach, and mushrooms. Foods that produce Wind.

    1. Hot spices. Hot spices overstimulate the Lungs, which is undesirable for asthmatic patients. 

    1. Fried foods and alcohol. Foods that produce Toxic Heat.

Phlegm is present mainly in nonallergic asthma, while Wind is present mainly in atopic asthma. 

Treating Asthma With Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the treatment for asthma-Xiao Chuan and atopic asthma follow the standard individualized syndrome differentiation. There exist at least ten different classic Chinese formulas for the treatment of nonallergic asthma that are said to address the symptoms of asthma as well as its causes. 

Ephedra is an ingredient often present in Chinese herbal formulas employed in the acute phase of nonallergic asthma. In the Chinese pharmacopeia, the ephedra herb is called Ma Huang.

Ma Huang has many clinical applications due to its decongestant and bronchodilatory effects. It acts by reducing swelling and narrowing blood vessels in the nose. It also widens the airways in the lungs, making breathing easier. 

Wu Wei Zi (Fructus schisandrae) and Dan Shen (Radix salviae miltiorrhizae) are two Chinese herbs that are often included in formulas for atopic asthma. These two herbs reduce immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels, which reduces airway inflammatory reactions. 

During the chronic period, atopic patients are prescribed formulas such as Yu Ping Feng San, which may be adapted with different herbs according to each individual case. Acupuncture is also an effective asthma treatment.

Patients with respiratory diseases may also receive a jingluo massage at the acupoints Ren-20 to Ren-17, and BL-13 to BL-17. 

Learn how to make Yu Ping Feng San

Tian Jiu Therapy

In addition to oral herbal medicines, another preventive therapy involving herbs known as Tian Jiu (San Fu Tie), the “Moxibustion Patch Treatment” is usually administered to asthmatic patients on the “three hottest days of the year”.

The days on which Tian Jiu patches are applied are called San Fu days, also referred to as “dog days”. The first San Fu Day falls on the summer solstice, and the second and third San Fu Days are ten days apart from the previous ones. 

The herbal mixture used in Tian Jiu therapy consists of a paste that can be made of either ground herbs or a concentrated extract of the same herbs, which is more effective. The formulation of Tian Jiu paste is the following:

Tian Jiu Paste

Ingredients

  • 4 g Bai Jie Zi (Sinapis semen)

  • 5 g Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis rhizoma)

  • 3 g Zhi Gan Sui (Kansui radix)

  • 8 g Xi Xin (Asari radix et rhizoma)

Directions

  • The resulting powder is mixed with fresh ginger juice in a ratio of 20 g to 25 ml

    A cotton piece moistened with the Tian Jiu paste is placed on adhesive patches and stuck to the acupoint bailao bilaterally. The patches are maintained for a period of four to twenty-four hours. Adverse effects like hyperemia and redness on the skin, as well as small blisters are considered to be indications of the effectiveness of Tian Jiu therapy. This therapy is also referred to as the Blistering Patch.

    Image from Focks C. Atlas of Acupuncture

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    The content and media in this article are for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice or relied upon as personal advice. If you have any questions about your health or a medical condition, seek the guidance of a qualified health professional. Do not disregard medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you read on this website.

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