Acupuncture Relieves Asthma Attacks

Researchers find acupuncture effective for relieving allergic asthma, a type of asthma triggered by allergens (e.g., dust mites, mold, pollen, foods). Symptoms include wheezing, difficulty breathing, itchy eyes, sinusitis, rhinitis, a general feeling of malaise, and sneezing. In a randomized controlled trial of 1,445 patients, acupuncture provided lasting relief for six months. 

Acupuncture was provided for a maximum of 15 treatments over a three month period. Patients receiving acupuncture demonstrated significant relief from allergic asthma at all data points, including the six month post-treatment follow-up data point. Only manual acupuncture was administered. Laser acupuncture, electroacupuncture, and moxibustion were not permitted for the purposes of eliminating variables in the investigation. Healthcare costs for acupuncture treatment were covered by a cooperative agreement between insurance companies and the university researchers conducting the study.

Patients receiving acupuncture had marked reductions of allergic asthma during strenuous and moderate exercise, work and social activities, and during sleep. The overall quality of life scores for patients receiving acupuncture were significantly higher than patients in the control group receiving no acupuncture.

All patients were allowed usual care and acupuncture was an additional treatment modality for patients in the the acupuncture groups. The researchers note, “study results reveal that the use of acupuncture as adjunct to the routine care of allergic bronchial asthma was superior to routine care alone in improving both specific symptoms and general quality of life.” [1] Secondary outcome measures document that patients were satisfied with acupuncture treatment results.

The study allowed for real life clinical applications of acupuncture, except for the limitation to manual acupuncture. The acupuncture point prescriptions, including the number of acupoints used, were individualized for each patient. This differs from many research designs wherein a primary acupuncture point prescription is designated for all patients. Secondary acupuncture points are often allowed for specific medical considerations. In this study, the researchers allowed for complete customization of all acupuncture points based upon clinical presentations with no limitations to primary and secondary acupoint protocols.

The researchers note that after the three months of acupuncture treatments, patients had significant improvements in global quality of life scores and individual parameters such as symptoms, activities, emotions, physicality, and mental function. An important finding, the durability of acupuncture was confirmed by a six month follow-up. Despite not having any acupuncture for three months following the completion of the study’s treatment regimen, the six month data point measured improvements “comparable to the 3 months’ improvements.”

The researchers note, “In this pragmatic randomized trial, allergic asthma patients treated with acupuncture in addition to routine care showed clinically significant improvements in disease specific and general quality of life compared to patients who received routine care alone.” [2] The researchers indicate that the findings demonstrate that acupuncture is safe, effective, and is an appropriate referral recommendation. The researchers note, “This study provides further evidence for the safety of acupuncture as an intervention. This conclusion is consistent with findings in large, previously published surveys and trials.”

The researchers were from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Universität Freiburg, and University of Zurich. They provided basic statistics on the prevalence of asthma. Incidence varies between countries, with a range of 4–32%. They add that corticosteroids are standard in usual care. They note that in China, “herbal medicine and acupuncture have traditionally been utilized in the treatment of lung disease, including asthma.” In addition, “A reasonable estimate is that about 30% of adults and 60% of children in the U.S. use some form of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) therapy for their asthma.”

Research from Anyang General Hospital confirms the results of the aforementioned European research. [3] Acupuncture was determined safe and effective as an adjunct to usual care for the treatment of asthma. In the two week study, patients receiving only drug therapy were compared with patients receiving treatment with both drug therapy and acupuncture. The data indicates that acupuncture greatly improves treatment outcomes. [4] 

The acupuncture treatment and drugs-only groups received drug therapy with beclometasone dipropionate and theophylline. Beclometasone dipropionate (a steroid) was provided in the form of an inhaler, 250 µg each dose, one time per day. Theophylline (a bronchodilator) was taken once per day in the from of 0.2 gram sustained-release tablets.

Acupuncture was applied twice per day if an acute asthma attack occurred and only once per day otherwise. Total treatment time for all patients was 14 days. The following acupuncture points were administered to patients in the acupuncture group: 

  • Feishu (BL13)

  • Yuji (LU10)

  • Lieque (LU7)

  • Dingchuan (MBW1)

  • Dazhui (GV14)

The following secondary acupoints were applied, varying for each patient according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) differential diagnostics: <