Asthma is a common but complicated condition with widely varied symptoms from person to person. Roughly 500 Canadians die from asthma every year. With proper eduction and management, most of these deaths could have been avoided.
Western medicine defines asthma as a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway that causes a set of symptoms which include shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing. The pattern varies from person to person, but may mild to severe, can flare up at any time but can disappear for a long time and can change from episode to episode. The cause is yet unknown.
In TCM (Traditional Chinese medicine), asthma (哮喘) was recognized a long time ago and was actually distinguished into two conditions. A sudden onset of rapid breathing combined with sound in the throat is considered 哮; while difficulties in breathing combined with rapid breathing is considered 喘. In modern day TCM, it is considered as a single health condition.
Asthma is caused by attack of external Wind, one of the external pathogenic factors. It can also be caused by over consumption of cold food or drinks, sudden emotional trauma, over working, or weaknesses in the defensive Qi as a result of genetic factor or chronic illnesses.
In order to treat the patient effectively, the practitioner must accurately diagnose the cause using TCM diagnostic technigues and take the proper course of action.
Asthma has two phases: exacerbation and remission. The exacerbation phase can be further classified into cold and hot based on the external Wind attack. Cold asthma is characterized by shortness of breath, thin, white sputum, pressure on the chest, dry mouth and thin white coating on the tongue. Hot asthma, on the other hand, has shortness of breath combined with pressure on the chest, loud breath, coughing, thick, yellow sputum that is hard to expel, dry mouth and desire for cold drinks, feeling of heat and excessive sweating and a red tongue with thick yellow coating.
The principle of treatment is to expel the external pathogenic factor and strengthen the body. The patient must also avoid cold food and drinks, and those that weaken the Spleen and Lung.