Acupuncture Treatment for Asthma

Both Acupuncture and Acupressure increase the flow of oxygen to the lungs and by decreasing stress, reduce asthma symptoms. Acupuncture and Acupressure also stimulate endorphins (the body’s natural pain killer) which can help calm the overactive immune system to lessen or relieve asthma attacks.  

Research studies have shown that Acupuncture does not seem to affect pulmonary function for asthmatic patients, but it does improve the quality of life and it does appear to help regulate cardiac-pulmonary function, improve the immune system and relieve inflammatory reactions for people with bronchial asthma.  Some studies have also shown improvement in the peak expiratory flow of patients with asthma after acupuncture treatments..

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Frequently Asked Question about Acupuncture

What is an Acupuncture Session Like?

During your first visit, the acupuncturist will generally ask for a medical history and about your general health and do a visual examination.  Depending on the reason for your visit (ie your complaint) or specific health conditions, the acupuncturist will asks about symptoms and about any other treatments you have received.

A physical examination will generally follow. The licensed acupuncturist will take pulse rate and other vital signs prior to beginning treatment. The needles used are sterilized and disposable (approved by the FDA) to avoid infection.

The acupuncture needles will then be inserted into specific point on your body, depending on your condition and symptoms.  Most people say that the acupuncture needles cause very little discomfort because they are thin and flexible.  The needles may then be stimulated; by being twisted gently, by heat or with low electrical frequencies.  Sessions generally last 20 minute to half an hour for the actual treatment, although you may need to allow up to an extra half hour or 45 minutes for the very first session with a particular acupuncturist.

The Acupuncture treatment can be painless. For some people, the sensation of the insertion of needle is minimal. People who have had acupuncture treatments report feeling different sensations like numbness, warmth & pressure but it is different from pain.  The procedure is so calm and relaxed that patients may fall asleep during acupuncture treatment.

How Long is a Normal Course of Treatment?

The number of sessions needed in acupuncture is dependent on the illness of the person, your individual response to treatment, and other factors like whether the condition is chronic or acute.  In relieving stress, for example, it can be recommended that the patient have one session per week for 5 or 8 treatments until the therapeutic effect is achieved. For treating neck pain or headaches, 10 sessions are common. Each session will take from 20 minutes up to an hour on average, depending again on the reason you are getting acupuncture treatments.

What Does Acupuncture Cost?

Fees for an acupuncture treatment vary depending on the location and practitioner but they will generally  range from $50 to $120 per session. Since the initial treatment is usually longer and includes the diagnostic processes, it will often costs more and then successive sessions will be less expensive.

Is Insurance Coverage Available for Acupuncture Treatment?

Some insurance companies cover acupuncture treatment and stipulate that the practitioner be NCCAOM certified. Many flexible health spending plans will also cover acupuncture and Oriental medicine treatment. You will likely need to speak with your insurance carrier to verify coverage and discuss your options.

How to Select a Good Acupuncturist

Training/Accreditation for Acupuncturists

Generally, to be able to perform acupuncture, the practitioner should be a “licensed acupuncturist”. This is often signified by certain initials after the person’s name:

  • OMD (Oriental Medical Doctor)
  • DOM (Doctor of Oriental Medicine)
  • L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist), or
  • MAOM (Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine). 

The legal practice of acupuncture varies from state to state in the USA. Most states require the practitioner to be a Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (MAOM) or have a degree that is equivalent and from an institution that is accredited by Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. There are several states that also require Acupuncture practitioners to have documentation from NCCAOM.  Patients are encouraged to refer to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) website since NCCAOM is responsible for administering examinations in Acupuncture and other techniques related to Oriental Medicine.

Practitioners who have passed the licensing process are certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and have the title "Dipl. Ac.” or "Diplomate of Acupuncture".  Their website also has a database of acupuncturists that can be searched.

Physicians who want to include Acupuncture in their practice can take a certifying examination with the American Board of Medical Acupuncture to demonstrate proof of their proficiency in the specialty of medical acupuncture. Physicians who pass the ABMA certifying examination are referred to as Diplomates of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (DABMA) and are considered to be board certified in medical acupuncture

It is recommended that you inquire if the acupuncturist you are considering seeing is licensed in the state where they practice. In cases where the state does not require licensing, you may want to look for an acupuncturist who has been certified by NCCAOM. You can also ask the acupuncturist how many hours of training they have had.  A licensed acupuncturist is required to have more than 3000 hours of training (classroom hours and clinical internship).

History of Acupuncture

Based on archaeological evidence and oral tradition, Acupuncture treatment originated from China. There is no definitive date when acupuncture is known to have started and the history of it is inconclusive, but there are different stories about how Acupuncture was invented. One relates the story of a soldier who suffered from a stiff and painful shoulder for years (what we call now as frozen shoulder). During a battle, he got wounded in the legs by an arrow and the pain in his shoulder disappeared. The miraculous disappearance of pain through poking of arrow on patient’s legs eventually became known and over time, it developed into Acupuncture. It is believed that the time of the Han Dynasty is when Acupuncture stopped using stone needles and shifted to metal.

From China, the practice of Acupuncture eventually expanded to neighboring countries in Asia and eventually to North America and all over the world.  Though acupuncture in the present times is commonly associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are other forms of the Acupuncture such as Korean and Japanese acupuncture.

The first known publication containing the word Acupuncture written in 1683 by Willem ten Rhijne (1647-1700) a Dutch doctor and Botanist, who wrote a first hand account of Acupuncture with this name detailing his experiences and observations of Acupuncture as it was practiced in Japan.  There is some debate about who actually coined the word (some accounts credit Willem ten Rhijne, other accounts credit Jesuit priests with inventing the name) but it seems clear that it comes from the combination of two latin words; acus "needle" (see acuity) and puncture

From historical legends about using arrows and sharpened stones in performing Acupuncture, the methodology has evolved to using thin needles and inserting them into key points on the skin (associated with the meridians and chakras).

Acupuncture is almost the same as Acupressure. The basic difference between the two is that acupuncture therapy uses thin needles to get results while acupressure therapy uses light pressure.   Both treatments aim to restore balance and encourage energy to flow freely to resolve illnesses such as migraines, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and more. 

Theory behind Asthma Treatment using Acupuncture

The theory of how acupuncture helps asthma depends if you come at the question from an Eastern or a Western point of view.

Acupuncture treatments have traditionally been associated with the Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy that the human body is composed of two opposing energy – the “yin” and the “yang”. When the body is healthy, these two forces or energy are in balance. The energy known as “qi” (or life force) flows like river in energy pathways through the human body, and these energy channels are called “meridians”. Each meridian is connected to a specified organ or groups of organs that govern specific functions within the body and emotions. The constant flow of energy through the meridians keeps the balance of the “yin” and the “yang”. If the flow of energy is blocked, the disruption of flow may result in illnesses or disturbances.  In acupuncture, it is believe that using thread-like needles and inserting them in certain key points in the human body will relieve blockages in the flow of energy. Such relief enables the body to heal and restore its balance.  According to this theory, asthma is related to blockages or weaknesses in the flow of your life energy or qi in areas that relate to the respiratory system.  According to this point of view, acupuncture stimulates the flow of the life energy and releases the blockages, thius improving your asthma symptoms.

In the West, Acupuncture treatment initially aroused curiosity and became popular because of its amazing effects for pain relief.  From the allopathic medical perspective, Acupuncture is explained through physics and physiology. In western medical language, Acupuncture works by stimulating the human central nervous system to release body chemicals which are known as neurotransmitters and hormones. Stimulating specific points will generate a change in the flow of energy. This then induces the release of certain chemicals and the related chemical reactions relieve pain and inflammation and stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin (mood enhancing neurotransmissions), which helps relieve stress, anxiety and pain.  There has been a great deal of research into acupuncture for asthma with the most clinical studies using animals to experiment.

These animal experiements have shown a number of physiological changes related to asthma (some highly technical), including:

  1. regulation of the cardiac-pulmonary function
  2. adjustments to the immune state
  3. relief from inflammatory reactions
  4. improvements in pulmonary function
  5. reduced accumulation of the peripheral eosinophile granulocytes (EOS)
  6. relieving the infiltration of inflammatory cells in the air-passage mucosa and promoting the apoptosis of EOS in the lung and air-passages
  7. down-regulating the expression of air-passage remodeling-related protein insulin growth factor-1
  8. suppressing the secretion of tumor necrosis factor and endothelin
  9. attenuating allergic reaction
  10. regulating neuroendocrine activity
  11. modulating intracellular second messenger activities

Research of Asthma Treatment using Acupuncture

Considerations for Use of Acupuncture as Supplemental Therapy for Patients with Allergic Asthma (2012)

Summary: This study looked at the clinical and immunomodulatory effects of acupuncture in the treatment of patients with allergic asthma. After a series of acupuncture treatments, the concentrations of sIgaA and total IgA in the saliva and nasal secretions were significantly decreased. A variety of other physical changes could also be measured, including changes in the eosinophils in the blood (decreased) and the numbers of lyumphocytes in the blood were increased. The study concludes that 'Acupuncture has regulatory effects on mucosal and cellular immunity in patients with allergic asthma and may be an adjunctive therapy for allergic asthma."

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22661215


Acupuncture in children and adolescents with bronchial asthma: a randomised controlled study (2011)

Summary: This was a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the immediate effects of acupuncture in patient rehabilitation for children and adolescents with bronchial asthma. With acupuncture treatments, the peak expiratory flow variability was observed to differ significantly from the control group. In addition the acupuncture group had significant differences in their rehabilitation response when they were discharged in terms of perceived anxiety. There were no differences in the lung function tests. The study concludes that 'After additional acupuncture, amelioration of peak expiratory flow variability and anxiety can be shown, without any difference in objective lung function tests and quality of life between study groups.'

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21944653

Survey of clinical and experimental researches on mechanisms of acupuncture treatment of bronchial asthma (2011)

Summary: In this paper, the authors reviewed a number of recent studies related to the treatment of bronchial asthma with acupuncture. The clinical study results showed that acupuncture could (1) regulate cardiac-pulmonary function; and (2) adjust immune state and relieve inflammatory reactions in bronchial asthma patients. Tests on animals showed a number of other physical changes. This study concluded taht while their are many indicators of possible positive effects, the studies themselves are not yet strong enough or conclusive enough either way, and that their needs to be more research into the clinical efficacies of accupuncture for bronchial asthma.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21942186


Meta-analysis on randomized controlled clinical trials of acupuncture for asthma (2010)

Summary: The goal of this paper was to assess the efficacy of acupuncture and moxibustion for asthma through a meta-analysis of previous randomized controlled clinical trials. Twenty two trials with 3,058 patients were included in the review. Overall the total effective rate in the acupuncture groups were significantly superior to the control groups. This review concludes that 'Acupuncture and moxibustion therapy can significantly improve the total effective rate of acupuncture for asthma.'

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20886804


A randomized pilot study of acupuncture as an adjunct therapy in adult asthmatic patients (2010)

Summary: This trial was designed to evaluate the feasility of estimating the effectiveness of acupuncture on asthmatic patients under conventional medical management. The participants were divided into an acupuncture group, a sham group and a waiting list (control) group. There were no significant differences found in terms of the weekly average peak expiratory flow or the forced expiratory volume one second, but the active acupuncture group showed a significant improvement over the control group for the quality of life questionnaire for adult Korean asthmatics, and for the transition dyspnea index. The study concludes that 'Acupuncture as an adjunct therapy to conventional medical care does not seem to affect pulmonary function in asthmatic patients. However, 12 sessions of acupuncture treatment during 4 weeks showed a favorable effect on the quality of life in adult asthmatic patients.'

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20701479

Stories of Asthma Treatment using Acupuncture

If you have used acupuncture for asthma please share your stories here.

Questions and Comments about Acupuncture for Asthma

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