Asthma according to Chinese Medicine

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Asthma can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like asthma here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here asthma is often associated with coughing, wheezing and dizziness in the pattern “Damp-Phlegm in the Lungs”. As you will see below, we have in record four patterns that can cause asthma.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of asthma we’ve identified four herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat asthma.

The four "patterns of disharmony" that can cause asthma

In Chinese Medicine asthma is a symptom for 4 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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

Damp-Phlegm in the Lungs

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

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

Phlegm in the Lungs (a synonym for "Substantial Phlegm") is the sputum that collects in the Lungs and is spat out during bronchitis or other Lung diseases.

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Damp-Phlegm in the Lungs include coughing, wheezing and dizziness.

Damp-Phlegm in the Lungs is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Damp-Phlegm in the Lungs 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)

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs include coughing, wheezing and fever.

Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs is often treated with Wen Dan Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Wen Dan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Hot-Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs here

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

Kidneys failing to receive Qi

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Tight (Jin), Weak (Ruo)

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Kidneys failing to receive Qi include dizziness, tinnitus and lower back pain.

Kidneys failing to receive Qi is often treated with You Gui Wan, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). You Gui Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that warm yang and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang".

Read more about Kidneys failing to receive Qi here

Inula Flowers (Xuan Fu Hua) is the king ingredient for Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a formula used for Rebellious Qi

Rebellious Qi

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red sides

Rebellious Qi is when Qi flows in the wrong direction. For instance, if one suffers from a rebellious Stomach Qi (a common case), the normal downward flow of Stomach Qi is disrupted and it goes upward instead. This may result in nausea, vomiting, belching or hiccupping.

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Rebellious Qi include coughing, vomiting and insomnia.

Rebellious Qi is often treated with Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Inula Flowers - Xuan Fu Hua - as a key herb). Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang belongs to the category of "formulas for a rebellious qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi".

Read more about Rebellious Qi here

Four herbal formulas that might help with asthma

Er Chen Tang

Source date: 1148 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm. Regulates Qi and harmonizes the Middle Burner (Stomach and Spleen).

Why might Er Chen Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm in the Lungs' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Phlegm In The Lungs include coughing, wheezing and dizziness.

Read more about Er Chen 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 treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Heat In The Lungs include coughing, wheezing and fever.

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Directs rebellious Qi downward. Arrests wheezing. Stops coughing. Warms and transforms Phlegm-Cold.

Why might Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidneys failing to receive Qi' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidneys Failing To Receive Qi include dizziness, tinnitus and lower back pain.

Read more about Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang here

Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi. Expectorant, treats hiccups.

Why might Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Rebellious Qi' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Rebellious Qi include coughing, vomiting and insomnia.

Read more about Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat asthma

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Er Chen Tang for instance).

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Apricot Seed (Xing Ren) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang for instance).

Apricot Seeds is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Large intestine and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Stops cough and wheezing caused by either Heat or Cold. Lubricates the Intestines and relieves constipation.

Read more about Apricot Seeds here

Why might Hogfennel Root (Qian Hu) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang for instance).

Hogfennel Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Directs the ascending flow of Lung Qi downward to stop cough. Expels Phlegm. Expels Wind and relieves the Exterior for Wind-Heat.

Read more about Hogfennel Roots here

Why might Hematite (Dai Zhe Shi) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang for instance).

Hematite is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Stomach, the Heart, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Calms the Liver, anchors uprising Yang and clears Liver Fire. Moves Qi downward. Cools the Blood, stops bleeding.

Read more about Hematite here

Why might Gypsum (Shi Gao) help with asthma?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat asthma and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat asthma as a symptom (such as Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang for instance).

Gypsum is a Cold herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Clears Heat and drains Fire. Clears Lung Heat. Relieves thirst and restlessness. Clears Stomach Heat.

Read more about Gypsum here