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Can acupuncture have an impact on asthma?

Bronchial asthma is one of a small number of conditions where we have prepared review papers which are more comprehensive than our customary factsheets, and the one for asthma can be found at:
 
http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/arrc/public-review-papers/bronchial-asthma-and-acupuncture-the-evidence-for-effectiveness.html
 
As you can see from this, the jury is still out in terms of claims for clinical efficacy. The evidence is not conclusive, and although we could make a great deal of the inappropriateness of the accepted research criteria for acupuncture (the randomised double blind control trial which only truly works for drug trials), the fact is that even a badly designed trial should show a trend towards treatment having an impact, and some trials have failed to do this.
 
That said, asthma has existed since the birth of Chinese medicine well over 2000 yeras ago, and there are a number of very well-established protocols for understanding the various ways in which asthma can be classified and for making sense of these within the system of Chinese medicine. In practice few of us do not believe that we can make a difference, but we all run up against a major limiting factor, and this is the accepted western treatment with steroids and bronchodilators.
 
We are always very clear that there are a significant number of medications which are vital to life and good functioning, and our members are trained neither to suggest stopping them nor to encourage patients to stop them, even passively by not speaking up against someone's stated intention. There are a number of western medications, however, where there is a rather problematic position in which patients sometimes find themselves. In the case of asthma, and sometimes epilepsy, a patient may be taking medications for years without suffering an attack, and not unreasonably ask whether they could stop taking the medications because the underlying problem has resolved and the drugs are no longer necessary. There is evidence, however, that the body achieves over time an effective balance with the medications, and their withdrawal can cause an attack. In the case of asthma there is documented evidence that rebound attacks after steroids have been withrawn can be very serious, and for this reason our members are advised to refer patients who want to question their medication back to their doctors for further discussion. Few doctors, in our experience, will let someone come off anti-asthma medication because of the theoretical risk of a fatal or serious attack.
 
However, you did talk about 'having an impact', and there is no doubt that anecdotally we hear of many cases where a patient's use of and reliance on bronchodilators reduces over time. Most asthmatics manage, rather than banish, their condition with the aid of medications, and we are sure that over time the use of bronchodilators in particular will be shown by research to fall after acupuncture treatment. We are also treating people, not simply their conditions, and we find that treatment often helps people to cope better with long-term health problems over and above any relief it brings to the problem itself.
 
Each prospective patient is unique and different, though, and the best advice we can give is that you contact a BAcC local to you and seek a brief face to face assessment with them of whether acupuncture treatment might be suitable for your own case.  

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