Treating asthma with Chinese medicine

Aus­tralia is fam­ous for hav­ing one of the worse records of asthma suf­fer­ers in the world. It is estim­ated that over 10% of chil­dren will exper­i­ence recur­rent asthma attacks, which in the major­ity of cases will have to be man­aged through­out their lives. Asthma is an obstruct­ive res­pir­at­ory dis­ease char­ac­ter­ized by recur­rent attacks caus­ing dif­fi­culty in breath­ing (dys­pnoea), wheez­ing and pro­longed exhal­a­tion with shortened inhal­a­tion. In most cases, an aller­gic reac­tion to spe­cif­ic agents, for example, pol­len or dust mites, causes a build-up of phlegm which accu­mu­lates in the lungs, gradu­ally block­ing the air­ways and caus­ing dif­fi­culties in exhal­a­tion. For many kids, these acute epis­odes occur before six years of age res­ult­ing from genet­ic dis­pos­i­tion with infec­tion, allergy or oth­er extern­al factors.

Aller­gic asthma is the res­ult of acute sens­it­iv­ity to an aller­gen, so the symp­toms occur imme­di­ately on con­tact with the irrit­ant, while infect­ive asthma is a delayed reac­tion to spe­cif­ic vir­uses or bac­teria weak­en­ing the immune sys­tem.  Numer­ous research stud­ies have iden­ti­fied sev­er­al patho­gen­ic causes for these alarm­ing stat­ist­ics. Amongst them: a diet which is heav­ily based on mucus gen­er­at­ing dairy products and sweets, and a hot and humid cli­mate in sev­er­al states which facil­it­ates the form­a­tion of aller­gen in the air. There is also a genet­ic com­pon­ent in this dis­order since over 60% of the fam­ily mem­bers of those affected suf­fer from the same con­di­tion. Also, emo­tion­al dis­turb­ances, such as stress, depres­sion, or insuf­fi­cient love can be a sig­ni­fic­ant factor in juven­ile onset. The typ­ic­al attack is marked by a sud­den onset with short­ness of breath, aud­ible phlegm builds up in the throat, pale com­plex­ion, res­pir­at­ory dis­tress and cold sweat on the fore­head. Aer­obic exer­cises have been pre­scribed for dec­ades in this coun­try as a way to build up the lung capa­city of young asthma suf­fer­ers, and many of the past Aus­trali­an swim­ming cham­pi­ons have come from this genet­ic pool. Nowadays, the West­ern medicine’s approach is to man­age the symp­toms with Vent­olin type devices, using bron­chodilat­or drugs to relieve the spasm of the bron­chi­al muscle and facil­it­ate the open­ings of the air­ways. In the most severe cases, hydro­cortisone injec­tion can be admin­istered to lessen the symp­toms. Anoth­er approach is the gradu­al injec­tion of minute quant­it­ies of the spe­cif­ic aller­gic sub­stances over sev­er­al months to get the patient’s body to build up its own defense mech­an­ism.  Unfor­tu­nately, these treat­ments have their side effects which make a less con­ven­tion­al approach worth invest­ig­at­ing.

In many forms of Ori­ent­al tra­di­tion­al medi­cine, the cul­tiv­a­tion of the breath is the found­a­tion of life and over­all health. In Indi­an Ayurved­ic medi­cine, as well as in  Yoga, pranayama breath­ing exer­cises includ­ing nadi shodana, or altern­ate nos­tril breath­ing have been fun­da­ment­al thera­peut­ic tools for many cen­tur­ies

Tra­di­tion­al Chinese Medi­cine is based on the har­mo­ni­ous cir­cu­la­tion of Qi through­out the body. While The Chinese char­ac­ter for Qi is often loosely trans­lated as energy, it also can be inter­preted as air, or breath. In China every day mil­lions of people prac­tice a form of gentle exer­cise called Qigong to reg­u­late the cir­cu­la­tion of this pre­cious sub­stance through­out the body and attain longev­ity. Accord­ing to the prin­ciples of Ori­ent­al medi­cine, the Lung energy con­trols the inhal­a­tion and sends the breath to the kid­ney, which grasps it and sends it back to the lung in return as we exhale. The effi­cient pump­ing action between these two organs is essen­tial for our res­pir­at­ory sys­tem and gen­er­al health. This explains why res­pir­at­ory dis­orders can be caused in ori­ent­al terms by a weak­ness of the lungs, or the kid­neys.

In Tra­di­tion­al Chinese Medi­cine, there are sev­er­al caus­ing factors for this res­pir­at­ory dys­func­tion.  The first one is an inher­ent weak­ness of the func­tion of the lungs caus­ing flu­id reten­tion in pul­mon­ary tis­sue.  Altern­at­ively, the digest­ive sys­tem can become dys­func­tion­al due to poor diet, espe­cially the excess intake of cold and damp food, like dairy products, ice cream, or sweets caus­ing the reten­tion of water, and ulti­mately the form­a­tion of damp­ness, and phlegm in the body. Also, the kid­neys hav­ing a part­ner­ship with the lungs in the res­pir­a­tion exchange, an inher­ent weak­ness in that organ will impair its abil­ity to con­trol the exhal­a­tion, and reg­u­la­tion of flu­ids effi­ciently. This flu­id dis­har­mony will often mani­fest in oth­er parts of the body, and many asthma suf­fer­ers will exhib­it evid­ence of skin dis­eases such as eczema, or pale com­plex­ion, poor muscle tone, or excess weight.  In fact, both skin and res­pir­at­ory dis­eases have often the same cause of Chinese medicine’s and their treat­ment approach is in most cases quite sim­il­ar. The acute stages can be caused by any three exter­i­or patho­gen­ic factors: wind, heat or Cold, there­fore, the prac­ti­tion­er will exam­ine the patient’s skin com­plex­ion, tongue coat­ing, and pulse qual­ity to accur­ately dia­gnose which one is the caus­ing factor. Dur­ing the remis­sion stage between the asthma attacks, the treat­ment strategy will be dif­fer­ent.  It will be the time to strengthen the lungs, kid­neys and the spleen to build up their patho­gen­ic res­ist­ance.

About Olivier Lejus

I was born in France and I emigrated to Australia in 1980. I worked as a circus performer, puppeteer and actor before I began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine a the University of Technology of Sydney in 1997. I graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of of science degree in Traditional Chinese medicine. I am now specializing in Japanese style acupuncture for the treatment of female and male infertility, pain, and anxiety.

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