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, dizziness and wheezing 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, dizziness and wheezing.

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, dizziness and wheezing.

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

Kidney Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Swollen

Kidney Yang Deficiency causes Internal Cold and weakness.

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yang Deficiency include coughing, dizziness and impotence.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney Yang Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation, Menopausal Syndrome or Irregular Menstruation.

Kidney Yang Deficiency is often treated with Ba Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Ba Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Yang".

Read more about Kidney Yang Deficiency here

Ephedra (Ma Huang) is the king ingredient for Xiao Qing Long Tang, a formula used for Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm

Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

This is when, often due to a stagnant Qi, the Body Fluids are retained in the chest and Lungs.

In addition to asthma, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm include coughing, dizziness and wheezing.

Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm is often treated with Xiao Qing Long Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Ephedra - Ma Huang - as a key herb). Xiao Qing Long Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear wind-cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Releases the Exterior".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm 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, dizziness and wheezing.

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, dizziness and wheezing.

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Kidney Yang. Strengthens the Essence.

Why might Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Yang Deficiency' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Yang Deficiency include coughing, dizziness and impotence.

Read more about Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan here

Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Lungs. Transforms congested Fluids.

Why might Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang help with asthma?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm' of which asthma is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Fluids Above The Diaphragm include coughing, dizziness and wheezing.

Read more about Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang here

Acupuncture points used for asthma

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 Schisandra Berry (Wu Wei Zi) 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 Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan for instance).

Schisandra Berries is a Warm herb that tastes Sour and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Kidneys and preserves the Essence. Astringes the Lung Qi and stops coughing. Retains Bodily Fluids and encourages their production. Tonifies the Heart and calms the spirit (Shen).

Read more about Schisandra Berries here

Why might Dried Ginger (Gan Jiang) 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 Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang for instance).

Dried Ginger is a Hot herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Stomach, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and expels Cold. Restores collapse of Yang and expels Interior Cold. Warms the Lungs and assists expectoration of Cold Phlegm. Stops chronic bleeding caused by Cold.

Read more about Dried Ginger here

Why might Ephedra (Ma Huang) 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).

Ephedra is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Bladder and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Releases the surface through sweating. Promotes the circulation of Lung Qi and stop wheezing. Promotes urination.

Read more about Ephedra 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