How acupuncture can help to relieve asthma symptoms
If you’ve followed my blogs for a while, you’ll know that I became an acupuncturist after my son, who was 8 years old at the time, experienced an asthma attack that was so severe it nearly killed him.
He was diagnosed with the condition when he was just a few months old. At first the condition was manageable. But as he got older, the attacks got worse and increasingly critical.
I imagine anyone who has asthma, or has a child with asthma, has tried pretty much every well-known option to try to relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack. After that terrifying episode with my son, I certainly did.
Like others, I was previously inclined to dismiss complementary therapies, but now that I saw clinical medicine wasn’t addressing the worsening condition nothing was off the table for me as a parent.
So, I took my son to see an acupuncturist.
The impact was startling. While there was no overnight fix – very few things related to our health are simple to fix immediately – I saw an immediate and tangible difference, one evidenced by steady progress over time.
As his condition improved he became happier, more talkative, less burdened. His general health improved, and his asthmatic episodes became noticeably less frequent and less intense.
Today, my son no longer uses an inhaler and has not suffered an asthma attack in a great many years.
So, that was my inspiration for leaving behind a career in clinical medicine, which had been the basis of my training to that point, and finding a new career in a treatment that continues to amaze me to this day through the results it can achieve.
Today there is increasing clinical evidence that acupuncture can be a highly effective treatment for asthma, with a growing number of randomised controlled trials taking place around the world.
But exactly how does this ancient treatment have such a significant impact on such a common condition? And if it’s so effective, why isn’t everyone using it – and why isn’t the NHS making people aware that it could be helpful to the estimated 5.4 million patients who have asthma?
The first question is easy to answer. The second, less so.
Let’s start with the easy stuff.
How does acupuncture help alleviate the symptoms of asthma?
In very broad terms acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, resulting in biochemical alterations that activate the body’s natural healing processes and encourage both physical and emotional wellness.
Acupuncture relieves asthma and allergy symptoms by activating nerves in the muscles and surrounding tissues. This triggers the body to release natural chemicals, such as endorphins and other neurochemical messengers that can help to change how the body perceives pain.
It’s important to remember here that the acupuncture needles themselves are not directly responsible for any healing process. Their job is to stimulate the body to produce a natural response, and it is these natural responses that also help to lower inflammation, which is the major cause of asthma symptoms.
The essence of acupuncture is the belief that the body’s natural healing energy can become blocked for many different reasons – stress, anxiety, tiredness, among many, many others – and this inhibits the efficiency of the natural immune system.
The revitalisation of that energy – which acupuncturists call qi – then triggers an improved immune response, which leads to a reduction in asthma symptoms.
And as I never tire of telling people, the added bonus with acupuncture is that this immune response isn’t just targeted at asthma, but also at any other wellness issues you may be experiencing – including those you may not be aware of!
So why isn’t acupuncture an obvious healthcare option for people with asthma?
This is where it gets a bit trickier. It’s difficult to say for sure why there isn’t greater awareness or take up of acupuncture to treat asthma, but I think there are two key roadblocks.
Lingering suspicion about all forms of complementary medicine
We are a species that, in distant centuries past, placed all our faith in healers. But we have become a modern society that has lived through industrial, technological and medical revolution.
For good reason, we have today come to place all our faith in modern medicine. To an extent, that’s good – clinical medicine has a vital role to play in healing our contemporary bodies, and no reputable complementary health practitioner will tell you otherwise.
But, just as it would be foolish to believe that complementary health can cure all your ills, so it is also foolish to believe that clinical medicine can do the same.
I think people are wary of treatments like acupuncture because they are still seen as being kooky or ineffectual, even though scientific research tells a very different story.
Public health bodies refuse to entertain some forms of complementary health
Complementary health covers a lot of bases. Physiotherapy is a form of complementary health, yet the NHS refers hundreds of patients for treatment every day. Why? Because there are clinical trials that prove it works.
And here’s the problem. Who pays for clinical trials? Well, funding can come from a number of sources, including charities, private investors, and Big Pharma. But it is also funded by government – and it’s not cheap.
So, given the expense and the fact that a large proportion of funding is directed at pharmaceutical trials, there has to be a convincing financial case to invest in trials for complementary health treatment.
And while I see the apparent ‘logic’ of this argument from a public health perspective, it’s also crazy, because a trial that proves the efficacy of, say, acupuncture (which, as we’ve already covered, existing research suggests it would) also translates into cost savings and reduced NHS waiting lists.
So, while I understand the money argument, I don’t understand why the NHS, via GPs, don’t at least make people aware of acupuncture (and other treatments) as one option they might consider.
Acupuncture is entirely safe, and, when performed by a trained professional, entirely painless. So, if you’re looking for some relief from your asthma or allergy, why not give it a go? Get in touch for an informal chat and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about acupuncture for asthma.
(Please note that I do not treat children – but can certainly help with adult asthma)