by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease which causes narrowing and inflammation of the airways (the bronchial tubes responsible for bringing air to and from the lungs). For those affected, asthma attacks can be triggered by inhaling an irritant or allergen, by exercise or stress.

While we would never recommend acupuncture as a replacement for your asthma medication (which should always be used immediately as the first line of defense), acupuncture can be used as an adjunct therapy in the prevention of asthma symptoms, particularly when attacks are associated with seasonal allergies or stress.

Because acupuncture has a calming effect on the nervous system, it can help relax the entire body. This aids in decreasing the various physical responses set off in times of stress, which for some includes more frequent asthma attacks. Additionally, a recent study suggests that acupuncture can help reduce the severity of symptoms associated with seasonal allergies, which could help prevent asthma in those whose attacks are allergen related. Many of our patients at BCA have found regular acupuncture treatments (1-2 times a week as needed) during times of increased asthma attacks to be helpful in decreasing the overall frequency.
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When an asthma attack occurs, the airways swell, the surrounding muscles contract, and often mucus is produced (causing more narrowing in the airways). Asthma attacks can last from minutes to days, can be mild to very severe (requiring immediate medical attention). One may go long periods of time with no asthma flare ups, followed by worsening periods (often exercise induced or an allergen exposure). Symptoms typically include:

Frequent cough (particularly at night)

Wheezing

Coughing

Shortness of breath

Chest tightness

If you or a loved one suffer from asthma, it is important to be able to recognize the initial onset of symptoms, and to treat them quickly. Asthma inhalers and bronchodilators should be carried at all times and used at first sign of symptoms.

Attacks can often escalate quickly. In the event of the following severe symptoms, 911 should be called:

  • Severe wheezing and coughing
  • Difficulty breathing and speaking
  • Chest pain
  • Tightening of neck and chest muscles
  • Anxiety
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Difficulty speaking