Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways due to bronchial hyperresponsiveness. It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults.

Clinically, it is characterised by attacks of wheezing with shortness of breath. There may also be a dry cough, and symptoms tend to be worse at night. Their onset is sudden, and usually accompanied by tightness of the chest.

Bronchial narrowing in asthma can be caused by four main factors:

  • Mucous in the bronchi
  • Swelling of internal layers of the bronchi
  • Muscular contraction in the walls of the bronchi
  • Bronchial wall thickening.

Western medicine classifies asthma into two types, allergic (early-onset) and non-allergic (late-onset). Early-onset, as the name suggests, usually starts during childhood, while late-onset tends to start later in a person’s life.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Allergies (to house dust mites, animal fur or pollen, for example)
  • Smoke, pollution and cold air
  • Exercise
  • Infections like colds or flu.

Identifying and avoiding your asthma triggers can help you keep your symptoms under control.

In Chinese medicine theory, asthma belongs to the category of Xiao Zheng (Wheezing Syndrome), and its pathology is viewed as either exogenous (external) or endogenous (internal).

Exterior type asthma is considered to be due, primarily, to an invasion of exterior Wind, and this is considered the main pathological factor. Wind is able to invade the Lung due to deficient Lung-Qi, which in turn results in deficient or weak Wei-Qi (Defensive Qi). During attacks, there are three main patterns considered in TCM, which are:

Interior type is mainly related to the Kidney and Liver. Pathogenesis relating to these organs is usually related to a congenital deficiency or emotional stress respectively. For a highly detailed and thorough explanation of asthma relating to both Western and Chinese medicine, we recommend reading Chapter 6 of The Practice of Chinese Medicine 3rd Edition by Giovanni Maciocia.

Treating Asthma with TCM

A Chinese medicine practitioner will make a differential diagnosis based on your past and present case history, information relating to your symptoms, and from tongue and pulse diagnosis. With this information, an effective treatment strategy can be developed.

In most cases, a combined treatment approach using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine will be used. Some commonly used medicinal herbs include Ma Huang (Herba Ephedrae), Gui Zhi (Ramulus Cinnamomi), Xing Ren (Semen Armeniacae Amarum), Sang Bai Pi (Cortex Mori), Dang Shen (Radix Codonopsis), Hou Po (Cortex Magnoliae Officinalis) and Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schisandrae).

If you wish to enquire about treatment or purchasing Chinese Herbal Medicines to help this condition please email us at