Acupuncture for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the name for a group of diseases that damage the lungs and pose difficulties in breathing, is the third leading cause of death in the Unites States. Symptoms often start slowly and may take years to present, leading many to receive delayed diagnosis and treatment. By the time the signs are noticeable, extensive lung tissue damage has usually occurred.

This damage is not reversible but symptoms such as chest tightness, strained breathing, and excess mucus production can be stabilized and further harm can be mitigated with treatment. It is very important to seek medical treatment immediately if you notice that you can no longer climb stairs or walk without becoming short of breath, your lips and/or fingernails become blue when you exert yourself, or you notice your mental abilities are failing.

The two most common diseases associated with COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both obstruct airflow but for different reasons. Emphysema is a degenerative disease that destroys the air passages in the lungs over time and reduces the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. Its hallmark symptom is feeling short of breath. Other prominent symptoms include a chronic (long-term) cough, excess coughing up of mucus and saliva (known as sputum), and breathlessness. Chronic bronchitis affects the lungs, with the main symptom being a long-term cough (over 3 months) with thick mucus present.

According to the American Lung Association, long-term tobacco smoking causes approximately 80-90 percent of COPD deaths. Long-term exposure to breathing in toxins such as air pollution, manufacturing fumes, and other airborne irritants may also contribute to development of the disease.

There are many ways acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help. First, if you need help breaking a smoking addiction, there are very specific ear acupuncture and/or body acupuncture protocols designed to do just that. Second, there are acupuncture treatments to assist your lungs by helping them relax. Once your body is at rest, blood and airflow may increase, which helps your breathing. Third, dietary recommendations can strengthen your digestive system, which, in turn, supports your immune system.

During your visit, symptoms are assessed and a treatment plan is designed specifically for you. For example, you may show signs of phlegm in the lungs if you constantly bring up sputum, experience breathlessness even when at rest, and your tongue has a thick white or yellow coating on it. A thick tongue coating, plus other symptoms, indicates to your practitioner that the air passages in your lungs may need phlegm removed from them.

In addition to acupuncture, you may receive dietary advice to help relieve your symptoms. When the body is constantly coughing up sputum, reducing your intake of fatty, cloying foods can help reduce phlegm production. Avocados, nuts, and olive oil provide a fat source that can be easier on the digestive system. Warm, fragrant soups are also an option for an easy-to-digest meal.