Several studies suggest that acupuncture may help with asthma symptoms. However, many of these are low quality, which may make their results less reliable.

A 2021 meta-analysis looked at 11 previous trials and found that acupuncture may reduce symptoms such as coughing. Overall, though, more research is necessary to confirm whether acupuncture works and how effective it is.

Acupuncture and other alternative therapies may be a helpful addition to a person’s treatment, but they cannot entirely replace the need for medications, such as rescue inhalers. Asthma can be potentially life threatening, so it is important that people have the medication they need, even if symptoms improve.

This article explores acupuncture for asthma, its benefits, limitations, and side effects.

Asthma and allergy resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for living with asthma and allergies, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?
Acupuncture needles along a person's spine to treat asthma.Share on Pinterest
Aubrie LeGault/Stocksy

While practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have used acupuncture to address various health conditions for centuries, its effectiveness for asthma management remains a subject of ongoing research.

Some research is positive. For example, in a 2019 systematic review, researchers found that a combination of acupuncture and conventional treatment could ease asthma symptoms and decrease the overactive immune response that causes them.

A more recent 2021 analysis assessed 11 studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating cough-variant asthma. It found that acupuncture reduced symptoms and improved lung and immune function.

Some scientists believe acupuncture could help with asthma. This is because asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition, and acupuncture may help with asthma symptoms as it appears to have anti-inflammatory benefits. This therapy reduces inflammatory cell production and helps support the immune system.

However, not all studies show consistently positive results. For example, an older 2015 study reported no significant difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture regarding asthma symptom improvement.

Sham acupuncture is a fake version of the therapy in which a person inserts needles into nontraditional points on the body. Researchers use it as a point of comparison to see if real acupuncture makes a true difference, but not all researchers agree that this is an effective tool.

The findings of the 2015 study suggest that it could be a placebo effect. Additionally, the quality of the previous research on this subject has been variable, which makes it challenging to draw definitive conclusions.

Acupressure is rooted in TCM, but rather than using needles, it involves applying pressure to specific points on the body to promote healing and alleviate symptoms.

Research on acupressure specifically for asthma is relatively limited. A 2017 review could not draw any reliable conclusions regarding the effects of acupressure on asthma or hay fever symptoms. The authors stated that there were few available trials and that more extensive studies were necessary to confirm its effects.

However, acupressure is low risk and safe for most people to try. Individuals interested in exploring acupressure for asthma can seek guidance from a qualified TCM practitioner to learn how to try it.

The possible benefits of acupuncture for asthma include:

  • Symptom reduction: Acupuncture may help ease asthma symptoms, including wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
  • Potential adjunctive therapy: Acupuncture may serve as a complementary therapy alongside conventional asthma treatments. A person can integrate it into a comprehensive asthma management plan to enhance overall symptom control and quality of life.
  • Individualized treatment: Practitioners tailor acupuncture to each individual, with treatment plans to address specific symptoms, underlying imbalances, and individual needs. This personalized approach may offer a more holistic perspective on asthma management.
  • Low risk: Acupuncture appears to be a low risk therapy that rarely causes any adverse effects.

However, while acupuncture may offer certain benefits in managing asthma symptoms, it is essential to consider its limitations. For example:

  • Asthma attacks: A person should not use acupuncture as a substitute for immediate medical intervention during an acute asthma attack. During an attack, individuals should follow their asthma action plan, which may involve using rescue inhalers and seeking prompt medical attention.
  • Lack of consistent evidence: While some studies suggest potential benefits, the overall scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture in asthma management is limited and has had mixed results.
  • Individual variation: The response to acupuncture may vary among individuals. Some people may experience significant improvements in symptoms, while others may see little to no effect.

Acupuncture points fall along pathways known as meridians. Each meridian aligns with a specific area of the body.

For asthma, the two primary meridians of interest are the lung and heart meridians. The lung meridian runs from the upper central chest to the tip of the thumb, along the upper side of the arm.

It has 11 acupuncture points, with Chi Ze (LU5), on the inner portion of the elbow, having a particular link to respiratory health.

The heart meridian runs from the armpit to the tip of the little finger, along the lower side of the arm. It has nine acupuncture points.

The number of acupuncture sessions a person needs for asthma relief can vary. Some may see improvements quickly, while others may need more or potentially ongoing sessions. For others, it may not help.

A 2020 study found that a single acupuncture session each week for 6 weeks often produced results in clinical studies. The majority of previous studies have used no more than 15 treatments.

When a person receives acupuncture from a qualified practitioner, it can be a safe treatment. Previous research reports that serious side effects are rare. However, some side effects can occur around the needle insertion points, including:

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • swelling
  • skin reactions

Other potential side effects include:

  • pain at distant sites
  • worsening of symptoms
  • changes in digestion
  • sleep issues

While acupuncture may offer potential benefits for asthma management, people must seek medical advice under certain circumstances.

For example, if a person has worsening symptomsdespite adhering to prescription treatment, they should speak with a doctor. This is also true if the symptoms become so frequent or severe that they interfere with daily activities and disrupt sleep or quality of life.

Furthermore, if individuals have questions about their asthma management, treatment options, or the potential role of acupuncture, they should consult a doctor. They can provide personalized advice, address concerns, and guide individuals in making informed decisions about their asthma care.

According to some studies, acupuncture may ease asthma symptoms and reduce immune system response. However, many of these studies are small or low quality, and not all research reaches the same conclusion. More trials are necessary to confirm if asthma can reliably help larger groups of people with asthma.

Overall, acupuncture is safe when a qualified professional administers the procedure. However, people should consult a doctor before trying acupuncture to determine how it could fit into their asthma treatment plan.