Asthma according to Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine, asthma can be associated with ten so-called "patterns of disharmony". Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to the Western concept of "disease", as a matter of fact here asthma can be caused by ten different patterns.

To understand whether someone's asthma might be caused by a given pattern, one needs to look for signs and symptoms associated with the pattern beyond what one might typically experience from asthma alone. For instance when asthma is caused by the pattern Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire, patients also experience symptoms such as coughing with blood-streaked sputum, wheezing, dry throat and hot palms and soles. Similarly, patients with Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a red tongue with partial absence of coating.

We've listed below a description of the ten patterns associated with asthma so that you can start to get an understanding of the various possibilities according to Chinese Medicine.

Once identified, patterns are often treated using herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. Here we detail below eight formulas that can help treat the various patterns associated with asthma, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The ten "patterns of disharmony" associated with asthma

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Recommended herbal formula: Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Symptoms: Wheezing Dry throat Night sweats Hot palms and soles Coughing with blood-streaked sputum

Asthma might be due to Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as coughing with blood-streaked sputum, wheezing, dry throat and hot palms and soles. Similarly, patients with Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a red tongue with partial absence of coating.

Read more about Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire here

The Bladder is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Bladder in Chinese Medicine

Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat

Asthma might be due to Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, dizziness or vertigo, dream disturbed sleep with strange or unusual dreams and palpitations. Similarly, patients with Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with yellow coating.

Read more about Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat here

Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

Recommended herbal formula: Ding Chuan Tang

Symptoms: Labored breathing Coughing and wheezing with copious thick and yellow sputum

Asthma might be due to Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as labored breathing and coughing and wheezing with copious thick and yellow sputum. Similarly, patients with Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or slippery (Hua) pulses as well as a tongue with yellow coating.

Read more about Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat here

The Lungs is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Lungs in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm Heat in the Lungs

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Yellow coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

Recommended herbal formula: Xiao Xian Xiong Tang

Symptoms: Clump Phlegm Chest pain Constipation Epigastric pain Clumping in the chest Bitter taste in the mouth Epigastric focal distention Focal distention of the chest Coughing of copious thick yellow sputum

Asthma might be due to Phlegm Heat in the Lungs if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as constipation, bitter taste in the mouth, coughing of copious thick yellow sputum and chest pain. Similarly, patients with Phlegm Heat in the Lungs typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or slippery (Hua) pulses as well as a tongue with sticky coating, yellow coating.

Read more about Phlegm Heat in the Lungs here

Rhubarb (Da Huang) is the key herb for Da Cheng Qi Tang, a formula used for Heat in Yang brightness Organs

Heat in Yang brightness Organs

Pulse type(s): Full (Shi)

Tongue coating: Grey or black coating, Yellow coating

Recommended herbal formula: Da Cheng Qi Tang

Symptoms: Flatulence Focal distention Abdominal fullness Severe constipation Tense and firm abdomen Abdominal pain that increases upon pressure

Asthma might be due to Heat in Yang brightness Organs if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as severe constipation, flatulence, focal distention and abdominal fullness. Similarly, patients with Heat in Yang brightness Organs typically exhibit full (Shi) pulses as well as a tongue with grey or black coating, yellow coating.

Read more about Heat in Yang brightness Organs here

Rhubarb (Da Huang) is the key herb for Da Cheng Qi Tang, a formula used for Yang Excess

Yang Excess

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Full (Shi)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

Recommended herbal formula: Da Cheng Qi Tang

Symptoms: Fever Thirst Red face Irritability Restlnessness Scanty dark urination Yellow vaginal discharge

Yang Excess is a Full Yang state and its symptoms are similar to those are caused by the Heat Pernicious invasion. Yang is associated with Heat, activity and Dryness and these are the general symptoms when patients have Excess Yang. However, they become more specific depending on the Organ involved. For instance, Excess Liver Yang can cause migraines, or Excess Heart Yang can result in manic behavior and extreme restlessness. When there is Excess Yang, the body is in a hyperfunctional state. Over time, the Body Fluids can be "burned off" by the presence of Excessive Yang, resulting in a condition of Yin Deficiency.

Excess Yang is most likely caused by the Heat Pernicious Influence, either External or Internal. It can also be caused by internal damage from the Seven Emotions, the Stagnation of Qi or Blood, over-exposure to hot climates or environments, indigestion, and the over consumption of hot-natured and fried greasy foods, coffee, alcohol and red meat.

Read more about Yang Excess here

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Kidney Yang Deficiency

Asthma might be due to Kidney Yang Deficiency if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as exhaustion from long-term illness, aversion to cold, cold extremities and impotence. Similarly, patients with Kidney Yang Deficiency typically exhibit deep (Chen), slow (Chi) or weak (Ruo) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

Read more about Kidney Yang Deficiency here

The Lungs is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Lungs in Chinese Medicine

Lung Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Empty (Xu), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Recommended herbal formulas: Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang, Mai Men Dong Tang

Symptoms: Insomnia Dry cough Dry mouth Tiredness Weak voice Dry throat Malar flush Night sweats Hot palms and soles Thin body lacking strength

Exterior Heat and Dryness can invade the Lungs and exhausts the Body Fluids. If it is not dealt with for a long time, it leads to Lung Yin Deficiency. Other factors can cause this pattern such as the Deficiency of Kidneys or Stomach Yin as well as prolonged Lung Qi Deficiency due to excessive smoking or use of voice. Emotional stress such as sadness and grief may also deplete Lung Qi and Yin.

Empty Heat symptoms appear if the Lung Yin Deficiency condition is not treated for a while. Patients can feel malar flush, low-grade fever as well as Heat in the palms and chest, especially in the evenings. 

The treatment principle is to tonify Lung Yin, nourish Body Fluids and clear Empty Heat if it is needed. 

Read more about Lung Yin Deficiency here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Stomach Yin Deficiency

The Stomach is responsible for receiving foods and drinks, ripening them and sending them to the Spleen for further digestion. Therefore, the Stomach is the origin of Body Fluids. It is also an Organ that likes Cold and Dampness which are both Yin characteristics. Stomach Yin Deficiency harms the Organ's functions and cause Dryness and Heat. As a result, symptoms such as thirst, dry stools, dry mouth and dry throat appear. 

However, this is just Empty Heat due to lacking of Yin (and not the Excess of Yang), so the feeling of Heat often only happens in the afternoons or evenings. The patients experiences thirst or hunger but there is no desire to drink or eat, or they only drink in small sips. They also prefer warm liquids and their appetite is poor. Due to lack of Body Fluids, there is constipation with dry stools. Retching and hiccups may occur as Stomach's Qi downward function is impaired. 

Unbalanced diet and bad eating habits are the major reasons for this pattern. The patients may often consume spicy and acrid foods, which deplete Stomach Fluids and Yin. Prolonged irregular eating habits also have similar negative impact, such as eating on the run, skipping meals, eating while working, having late meals or working right after eating. Finally chronic Stomach disease can also be a cause. In additional to above reasons, a high fever during an infectious disease or overconsumption of antibiotics can also lead to an acute Stomach Yin Deficiency. 

The treatment principle is to nourish Stomach Yin and Body Fluids.

Read more about Stomach Yin Deficiency here

Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Soggy (Ru), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Swollen

Recommended herbal formula: Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang

Symptoms: Palpitations Dizziness or vertigo

Asthma might be due to Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as palpitations and dizziness or vertigo. Similarly, patients with Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium typically exhibit slippery (Hua), soggy (Ru) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a pale tongue with thick white coating.

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium here

The eight herbal formulas that might help with asthma

Da Cheng Qi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Purges Heat from the Stomach and Intestines. Relieves constipation.

Why might Da Cheng Qi Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Heat in Yang brightness Organs and Yang Excess which are sometimes associated with asthma. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Da Cheng Qi Tang here

Mai Men Dong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes the Stomach. Generates Body Fluids. Directs Rebellious Qi downward.

Why might Mai Men Dong Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Lung Yin Deficiency and Stomach Yin Deficiency which are sometimes associated with asthma. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Mai Men Dong Tang here

Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Source date: 1573 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Lung and Kidney Yin. Lubricates the Lung and clears phlegm.

Why might Bai He Gu Jin Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire, a pattern sometimes associated with asthma. If it looks like you might suffer from Lung and Kidney Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Bai He Gu Jin Tang here

Wen Dan Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Hot-Phlegm. Clears Gallbladder heat. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Wen Dan Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, a pattern sometimes associated with asthma. If it looks like you might suffer from Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

Ding Chuan Tang

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Clears Lung Heat. Expectorant for asthma.

Why might Ding Chuan Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat, a pattern sometimes associated with asthma. If it looks like you might suffer from Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Ding Chuan Tang here

Xiao Xian Xiong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Phlegm. Expands the chest. Dissipates clumps.

Why might Xiao Xian Xiong Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Phlegm Heat in the Lungs, a pattern sometimes associated with asthma. If it looks like you might suffer from Phlegm Heat in the Lungs, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Xiao Xian Xiong Tang here

You Gui Wan

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang. Replenishes the Essence. Tonifies the Blood.

Why might You Gui Wan help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Kidney Yang Deficiency, a pattern sometimes associated with asthma. If it looks like you might suffer from Kidney Yang Deficiency, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about You Gui Wan here

Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Warms and transforms Phlegm-Fluids. Strengthens the Spleen. Resolves Dampness.

Why might Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium, a pattern sometimes associated with asthma. If it looks like you might suffer from Phlegm-Fluids in the hypochondrium, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang here