Wed | Aug 15, 2018

Asthma. a traditional Chinese medicine approach

Published:Wednesday | October 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Usually several herbs are combined in herbal formulas to relieve symptoms and reduce the frequency of asthma attacks

Asthma is a respiratory condition which causes the airway to narrow, swell and produce extra mucus and can result in difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and pain. Some persons may find it difficult to sleep, as coughing is often worse at night.

Persons have asthma in varying degrees of severity. For some people, asthma attacks are infrequent and mild, but for others the symptoms and attacks are more severe and can in fact be life threatening.

Triggers of asthma attacks will vary from person to person and can be caused by:

Airborne allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, mould, cockroaches and dust mites

Respiratory infections, such as the common cold

Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)

Cold air

Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke

Some medications: beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve)

Strong emotions and stress

Sulfites and preservatives found in some types of foods and beverages, including shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer and wine

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Menstrual cycle in some women

Depending on the symptoms that are present, traditional Chinese medicine is able to address the management of asthma in a number of different ways. Distinctions are made between presentations based on how depleted and weak the patient feels and the severity of the symptoms.


Acupuncture and Chinese herbal preparations are used to:

Strengthen and tonify lung function

Have a bronchodilating effect in order to relax the bronchial smooth muscle and relieve spasms

Regulate the circulation of qi in the lungs and reverse rebellious qi in order to relieve wheezing and coughing: rebellious qi, is qi moving in an upward direction, counter to normal lung functioning, causing coughing and wheezing

Relieve chest discomfort and pain

Strengthen Defensive (wei) qi: wei qi is the qi that protects the body from illness/attacks brought on by environmental factors, including allergens and pollutants.


Usually several herbs are combined in herbal formulas to relieve symptoms and reduce the frequency of asthma attacks. Some of the herbs used include:

Cinnamon bark (rou gui)

Radish seed (lai fu zi)

Apricot seed (xing ren)

Licorice (gan cao)


Acupuncture points along the lung meridian are stimulated by the gentle insertion of very thin needles to relieve symptoms and reduce the frequency of attacks. The lung meridian is a pathway which runs along the arm and enters the chest, along which there are points used to address a variety of lung conditions, including asthma.


Cold foods and drinks should be restricted or eliminated as they constrict bronchial tubes causing spasms.

Recommended foods include almonds, walnuts, basil, carrots, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, figs, onions and garlic. Also, a diet low in raw foods.

Avoid mucus-producing foods such as sugar, fried or greasy foods, dairy products, food additives (MSG), white flour products and junk food.


Allergens, pollutants and circumstances known to trigger attacks should be avoided. Carpets can be replaced with hard-surface floors to prevent build-up of dust, mould and other allergens.

Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner of acupuncture and herbal medicine, adjunct lecturer at the University of Technology in Oriental/Chinese medicine. Email:;