Acupuncture for Asthma in Children
In asthma the airways of the lungs become inflamed and swollen, making breathing difficult and causing wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Over a million children in the UK have asthma, and whilst symptoms may disappear during the teenage years, they can return in adulthood. Asthma symptoms vary from child to child; for some it is quite mild, for others severe.
If symptoms are not controlled well, asthma can impact negatively on a child’s health and well-being in a number of ways – for example causing fatigue and inability to keep up at school, or preventing a child from joining in with their friends sports and games.
Western medicine cannot cure asthma, but aims to control symptoms in children with a combination of medicines, exercise and diet; avoiding things which may trigger attacks, such as animal fur.
Childhood Asthma and TCM
A child with asthma is one whose Lung Qi is deficient, this may be due to an inherited weakness, the consequence of repeated infections, or possibly taking too much or (increasingly nowadays) too little exercise. In the first place therefore, TCM treatment of asthma aims to strengthen and fortify the Lung Qi, using acupuncture and perhaps herbal medicine.
As well as this, breathing may be restricted by the presence of Phlegm, which often originates from an immature digestive system and settles in the lungs. Certain foods; such as dairy products, sugar and concentrated fruit juices will easily lead to Phlegm production, and so working with the child’s eating habits will be an important part of their recovery.
Whilst these two factors – deficiency of Lung QI, and Phlegm – are often involved in childhood asthma, each child and their experience of disease is unique, and every course of treatment begins with a detailed consultation in which, through discussion with the parent and, if they are old enough, the child, and through observation of things like the child’s manner, complexion and tongue, the clinician builds up a picture of how the breathing problems have arisen, and thus how they can be treated.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in treating Childhood Asthma?
A large scale trial of herbal medicine1 found that frequency of attacks were markedly reduced and serum levels of markers such as nitric oxide (high levels of which can indicate inflammation of air passages in the lungs) were significantly lower. An earlier acupuncture trial2 similarly found therapeutic improvement correlated with improvement in serum levels of similar markers.
Kong LF et al (2001) Effect of Yi Qi Bu Shen Huo Xue (Benefiting Qi, Tonifying the Kidneys and Invigorating Blood) Herbs in Treating Childhood Asthma and on Levels of Nitric Oxide, Endothelin-1 and Serum Endothelial Levels Chinese Journal in Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine 21(9) 667-669
Gong B. et al(1986) Biochemical and immunological studies on treatment of asthmatic children by means of propagated sensation along channels elicited by meditation Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 6(4): 257-62