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Ask an expert - body - chest - asthma
Q: I have mild asthma but I believe this is well controlled. Related problems centre on excesss mucus production which means I have a permanent cough. This excess mucus production appears to relate to particulate matter e.g. dust, smoke, and chemicals e.g. scented candles, perfumes. Allergy tests show I have no problems with most biological materials e.g. cat, dog, feathers etc but a mild allergy to grass pollen. Could acupuncture help me?
A: There is a growing body of research which indicates that acupuncture in conjunction with conventional treatment may significantly improve the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Our factsheet please click here
gives details of a number of studies which show very encouraging results, although at this stage there are not enough nor enough of sufficient size to warrant an unqualified claim for benefit.
One of the great strengths of Chinese medicine, however, is that it is premised on understanding symptoms within the context of the functioning of the body as a whole. That is not to say that conventional medicine doesn't, but quite often specialisation means that the focus on problems and their treatment is quite narrow. In Chinese medicine excess mucus production in an area of the body is seen in its wider context, and very often as a problem which manifests in one place but is actually a consequence of a systemic weakness. The practitioner's aim would be to establish whether this was the case, and if so treat the underlying problem, without doing which local treatment would sometimes not achieve sustainable results.
Our best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice on whether acupuncture could be of benefit to your specific circumstances. It may simply be that the tissues in the upper respiratory tract have become hyper-sensitive over the years to the kinds of allergens which cause you problems, and the research trials seem to indicate that the mixture of acupuncture and conventional medication can help to bring this under control. If, however, there are broader patterns of imbalance the practitioner can advise you more accurately based on what is going on within your system as a whole.
We're not entirely sure what you mean by 'modern acupuncture'? This can either mean western medical acupuncture of a kind used most often by doctors, or it can mean traditional acupuncture used in a way which is aimed at a specific condition rather than using it in a traditional way which sees named conditions as the manifestation of a deeper pattern of disharmony.
The research which has been done has used both types. We have summarised the information in a Review Paper to be found here but this is a fairly dense piece of information in comparison with our fact sheets which are a little easier to access. The summary of findings is encouraging but not conclusive. This is not a surprise to us, though; the format for running trials of acupuncture for asthma are not particularly sensitive to the way acupuncture is practised in everyday use. There is a long history of treating asthma-related conditions in Chinese medicine, and we hope that in time this is validated by research which meets the current western models of best practice.
The one factor which it is very important to bear in mind is that doctors are reluctant to encourage people to come off the long term medications which they are taking for asthma, especially steroids. We encourage our members to be careful only to talk in terms of reducing the medications over which patients can exercise some choice, the 'puffers' like salbutamol/ventolin.