Though research is limited, acupuncture does appear to be effective ― when used in combination with medications.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects almost 26 million people ― which means about 1 in 13 people ― in the United States alone. For people living with the condition, several traditional and complementary treatment options are available to help manage chronic symptoms.

Acupuncture is one of the alternative treatment options that research suggests may possibly help improve asthma symptoms.

Below, we’ll explore the research on how effective acupuncture is for asthma symptoms and share more about what to expect when you undergo acupuncture for asthma.

Acupuncture has a long history as an alternative treatment for chronic health conditions, but research on the effectiveness of acupuncture for asthma is limited.

Two recent literature reviews suggest that acupuncture may provide some benefits for asthma symptoms.

In an analysis from 2019, researchers explored the effectiveness of conventional treatments plus acupuncture in adults and adolescents with asthma. Results of the analysis showed that when combined with conventional treatments, acupuncture was able to help reduce symptoms and decrease immune response in the participants.

A more recent analysis from 2021 looked at 11 studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating cough-variant asthma. According to the study results, acupuncture was effective at easing symptoms, reducing relapse rates, and improving lung and immune function in people with asthma.

One of the reasons that acupuncture may be helpful in treating asthma symptoms is because it appears to have anti-inflammatory benefits. In fact, several studies have suggested that acupuncture may reduce inflammatory cell production and help improve the function of the immune system.

Because asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition, this may explain why acupuncture can potentially reduce symptom severity and improve immune function in people with the condition.

Still, research on the effectiveness of acupuncture as a stand-alone treatment for asthma is still mixed ― and researchers believe that much larger studies are still needed to determine the benefits and risks.

Acupuncture is a relatively safe treatment approach for most people. But some common reactions can occur with needle acupuncture, including:

  • pain at the needle site
  • bleeding at the needle site
  • swelling around the needle site
  • other skin reactions near the needle site

Other possible side effects of acupuncture include:

  • distant pain that’s not at the needle site
  • worsening of symptoms
  • changes in digestion, sleep, or libido
  • central nervous system symptoms

Make sure to talk with your acupuncturist if you experience any lingering side effects.

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Illustration by Jason Hoffman

Acupuncture points lie along “energy highways,” or pathways, called meridians. Each meridian is associated with a different area of the body, and acupuncturists can manipulate points along these meridians to potentially ease symptoms.

Both the lung and heart meridians are believed to play a role in treating conditions related to the lungs, including asthma. Here’s what these two meridians look like:

  • Lung meridian: The lung meridian includes 11 acupuncture points that run from the upper middle portion of the chest to the tip of the thumb, along the upper portion of the arm. LU5, which is the acupuncture point located on the inner portion of the elbow, is specifically associated with respiratory health.
  • Heart meridian: The heart meridian includes 9 acupuncture points that run from the armpit to the tip of the little finger, along the lower portion of the arm. It is believed that acupuncture points along this meridian can affect the lungs indirectly.

During an acupuncture session, your acupuncturist may use these points ― and other points in the body ― to potentially help reduce asthma symptoms and improve immune system function.

How do I find an acupuncturist?

If you’re interested in trying acupuncture as an asthma treatment, you may want to start by asking your primary care physician if they can recommend anyone. Or if you’re in the United States, you can check the national certification board for acupuncturists:

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When it comes to alternative and complementary treatments, everyone’s treatment needs are different. Some people may see improvements in only a few short sessions, while others may notice that it takes a few weeks to see changes.

Research from 2020 found that 1 acupuncture session each week for a period of 6 weeks was often able to produce results in most clinical studies ― with most studies using no more than 15 treatments.

Other complementary asthma treatments

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there are several other complementary treatment approaches used for asthma. And although not all of these treatment approaches have been shown to be effective, the two categories that show promise include:

  • Physical approaches: Acupuncture is just one of the many complementary physical approaches frequently used for asthma. Other potentially beneficial approaches include yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation.
  • Nutritional approaches: Nutritional supplementation may also be beneficial as a complementary treatment for asthma. Some of the more promising supplements include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and soy isoflavones.

When used alongside traditional treatment approaches, some of these alternative treatments may help reduce symptom severity. But researchers are still exploring the exact benefits that these treatments can offer for asthma.

Make sure to always talk with your doctor before beginning any new treatment.

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Several studies suggest that acupuncture may help improve symptoms and reduce immune system response in people living with asthma. However, more research is still needed to determine the extent of these benefits, especially for larger groups of people.

If you’re considering integrating complementary options into your asthma treatment, consider reaching out to your doctor to discuss which options might be safe and effective for you.