Asthma, TCM and acupuncture

Dr. F. Beyens – M.D.

It is not always easy to approach a western medical concept with a TCM mind, because often the patterns do not correspond with each other. In the case of asthma, the notion of allergy as such was not within the scope of the Chinese medical system. There are however a few names of symptoms and a certain number of patterns which we can relate to the modern concept. How to think, in terms of TCM, in front of a patient who is “making noises” while he is breathing? How to decide if the situation is acute or chronic? Is the patient coughing and expectorating, and what are the characteristics of these actions? Is there presence of Heat or Cold? Is the nature of the disease Excess or Deficiency? The differential diagnosis, using the Eight Principles, will of course be very helpful. But will it be enough?

When going through the books, there are some differences between the Chinese TCM books, the Chinese Acupuncture books, and sometimes the western books which have taken a TCM view of the pathology. So there is some cleaning up to do, in order to find a constructive and helpful lead for medical acupuncturists.

In the west we are mostly confronted with patients who are already medicated, and sometimes well balanced. Is it wise to take them off their medicines, even gradually, and try to treat them only with acupuncture? What would a Chinese TCM doctor do? Where are the risks and the dangers? What limits should we set? Should we just try to treat the crisis, or treat the patient in periods of remission, or should we aim at improving the underlying condition or constitution? Or both? In what order?

Is acupuncture really effective in treating what we call asthma? Up to what point? Once we have made a diagnosis in terms of TCM, how to decide our attitude? We must not forget that western medicine has made considerable progress in the understanding of the pathology, and even in its treatment, although asthma seems to be much more frequent than before. So we must carefully weigh the pros and cons of using acupuncture, whether during an attack or in between them.

We shall attempt to answer a few of these questions, make suggestions on how and when to treat, and set the limits beyond which it, would not be reasonable to use acupuncture alone, useless to use it, or even eventually dangerous.