Allergy Induced Asthma: Breathless, Tight Chest

Allergy Induced asthma is becoming more common, and nobody’s sure why. Lots of theories. Chinese medicine has some suggestions.
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Key Learning Points

  • With allergy-induced asthma, the parents’ health before conception may be important
  • Mother’s health during pregnancy can be vital
  • Well-meaning medication after birth may damage Kidney, Lung and Spleen energies
  • The Chinese concepts of ‘Wind’ and ‘Phlegm’ trigger the attack

Allergy Induced Asthma causes huge difficulties for many people: shortness of breath, tight chest, waking breathless in the night, problems when running outside  … and socially embarrassing.

Science has discovered many of the chemical or hormonal triggers behind allergy induced asthma, but scientists don’t really know why it’s become so common.

 
 

 

woman in black jacket covering her face with white mask - may help some forms of allergy induced asthma
Woman in face-mask, trying to mitigate allergy induced asthma

 

In the schools I attended from the age of 4 to 18, I remember nobody with asthma. I don’t say they didn’t exist, but I wasn’t that unobservant and I remember nobody.

A friend who was at the same school with me from age 13 – 18 and who subsequently trained and then practised as a doctor in General Practice until he retired, says he remembers perhaps one boy who had difficulties breathing.

That was in the early 1960s in a school with over 800 boys.

I don’t remember anyone with allergies or skin problems, either.

Most of us came from middle-income families, but our parents had all survived the Second World war, giving birth to us shortly after it ended. 

They were the survivors, but many of them were, for years, very tired after the war.

I’ve asked lots of people in my age group with similar backgrounds about their experiences.

While some remember one or two people with occasional mild breathing difficulties, nobody seems to remember anyone with asthma.

Some teachers now tell me that between one quarter and one third of their classes often contain students needing medicines for asthma, their breathing, for skin problems or for allergies.

So something has happened since the 1960s. 

 

 
 

Chinese medicine has some answers

 

Chinese herbs often used for asthma
Chinese herbs
 
 

Just in case you’ve strayed onto this page by mistake, this site is about Chinese medicine in English and how it can often explain many modern health problems and diseases.

Chinese medicine has many ways to treat patients, including acupunctureherbsmoxibustioncupping and so on. They are very different to the tools of modern ‘Western’ medicine. You have to approach it with an open mind.

What is asthma?

To quote the World Health Organisation:

“Asthma attacks all age groups but often starts in childhood. It is a disease characterised by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.”

Here we run into a problem. Chinese medicine doesn’t have an exact equivalent to ‘asthma’, but it does to the symptoms of

 

In fact, almost always, in Chinese medicine, the emphasis is on the symptoms rather than the disease.

The Individual’s Symptoms, not the Name of the Disease

Why the symptoms, not the disease?

Because that’s a more practical way to do it, not least because you can then ask specific questions about the symptom. For example, if you and I both have the common cold, caught from the same person and with the same virus.

  • You might be sneezing – I might have a sore throat
  • You might feel cold – I might feel hot
  • Sometimes you might be thirstless – I might be thirsty
  • You might have lost your voice – my voice might seem louder
  • Your face might be pale – mine might be red

 

In which case, you’d be classified in Chinese medicine as having an ‘invasion’ of Wind-Cold. I would have an invasion of Wind-Heat. That’s a vital distinction in theory and when it comes to treatment!

When it comes to how Chinese medicine would deal with each of us, although we have both caught the same virus, our bodies have reacted to the ‘common cold’ in different ways.

That leads to different ways of treating them and believe me, it makes a difference.

In this example, from the point of view of Chinese medicine, taking an aspirin or paracetamol would NOT be a good idea for you. It wouldn’t be the best way for me either, but just a few aspirins wouldn’t mess up my system as much as they might yours.

Indeed, for you, these common medications might prolong your misery even if they temporarily made life a little easier.

Likewise,

  • when I get hot and perspire during a wheezing attack, 
  • whereas you get breathless and cold … 

 

… these would have totally different approaches in Chinese medicine!

What about skin problems?

 

Skin problems with asthma need frequent medication
Skin care – Photo by Amplitude Magazin on Unsplash
 

Very often, asthma sufferers also have skin problems. In Chinese medicine, as in Western medicine, there’s definitely a reason for this. (Read more about asthma causes and the reasons for it here.)

What is it? For a start in Chinese medicine your Lungs rule both your skin and your breathing.

On this page we’re concentrating on allergy induced asthma. So if allergy induced asthma is not your problem, try one of the following:

Early Onset Asthma causes and triggers

Allergy Induced asthma often, or usually

  • comes on in childhood
  • comes from parents by ‘inheritance’
  • often occurs with eczema
  • shows wheals on the skin when you touch certain allergens

 

Very often, the allergens that prompt an attack include:

  • pollen from flowers, grasses or trees
  • spores of fungi
  • animal dander (dust) from hair or feathers.
  • house-dust mites
  • saliva of cats
  • faecal particles

 

Once you become sensitive to the above, you find in addition you may become sensitive to other allergens including:

  • petrol fumes
  • fragrances, perfumes and odours eg from cooking
  • smoke (including from tobacco)
  • dust in general
  • foods such as milk, yeast, eggs, fish and shell-fish

 

Whether you become sensitised to these other allergens may, in my humble opinion, depend (for some) on whether you received orthodox treatment to de-sensitize you to the earlier triggers.

It is almost as if your body, when former allergens are denied it, seizes on something else to be ‘allergic’ to.

 

By the way, what about the words ‘allergy’, ‘allergic’ and ‘allergen’?

Allergic reactions come in various forms.

To me, a ‘real’ allergic reaction is serious and produces an anaphylactic reaction that can be life-threatening.

However, we now associate the word ‘allergic’ with reactions that produce a hypersensitive reaction: not even remotely anaphylactic. Read more here.

Don’t confuse these with reactions due to stress or exhaustion!

For example, I remember one holiday when my wife and I took our two very small children, one of them an infant, on holiday.

During the frantic weeks up to our departure, when we were both working very long hours and then getting less sleep than usual at night, my body had less tolerance to bread, coffee and alcohol.

  • Bread produced bowel disturbances
  • Coffee upset my sleep patterns and exhausted me the day after taking it, sometimes giving me a headache
  • Alcohol made me cross and poor company

 

However, after a week’s holiday in a warm climate where the children seemed happy to play almost unsupervised and then slept all night, I found even refined white bread was a delight, I could drink as much coffee as I liked without regrets, and alcohol in moderation seemed to do me no harm.

I had just been tired, and my body complained at any small extra load I imposed on it!

Late onset asthma triggers

This kind of asthma occurs when your bronchi start over-reacting to circumstances which can be

  • emotional
  • allergens
  • after respiratory disease
  • after other disease
  • environmental, eg cold air
  • exercise

 

Chinese Medicine mostly explains these under breathlessness and wheezing. See also asthma causes, below.

 

Other asthma causes

Commonly, a respiratory infection can weaken the lungs making them more susceptible to asthma.

 
 
Medications
Photo by Christine Sandu

 

  • In Chinese medicine, suppressing the body’s natural methods of healing, especially if done too early in life, can put your lungs at a permanent disadvantage. This could mean using medication, especially antibiotics but also possibly anti-fever pills (anti-pyretics like aspirin, paracetemol, NSAIDS), to stop a bad cold or respiratory infection. It almost seems that our bodies need some early infections to learn how to cope with later ones. If you ‘stop’ these early natural reactions (which include fevers, for example) by suppressing them, you may encumber the body for life. Of course, in young children, fevers can become serious very quickly, and it may be a fine line between allowing the child’s natural immune system to proceed, albeit with a high fever, and worrying about the long-term ill-effects of that fever.
  • Suppression. Antibiotics are not the only way to stop a mild disease taking its natural course. If you haven’t done so already, please read the page on Suppression. (By the way, the idea of Suppression comes more from homeopathy than from Chinese medicine. If you really want to get to grips with the Chinese model of how disease penetrates into the body by overcoming its natural defences, click on either this or that … but some of it is a bit technical.)
  • In the following, do realise that Chinese medicine is at least 2500 years old. When it started, they didn’t experience, or eat, or couldn’t make, a whole range of substances and foods that we now know are often asthma causes. So, until now, the literature never considered them as possible asthma causes, because they didn’t exist.
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Wheezing

Wheezing is a frequent symptom of asthma. How does Chinese medicine explain it?

The following contains some technical terms.  I hope you don’t find them too difficult to understand.

There are two situations.

  • The acute attack. This is the one everyone worries about. But what if you could lessen their frequency or seriousness by treating the underlying syndrome?
  • The underlying picture or syndrome that you see between attacks.

 

Acute syndromes: the acute causes of wheezing

External Heat and Cold: Wind-Cold
Windy and Cold wind turbines – Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
 
 

Between attacks, the underlying causes of wheezing

 

Why do people get allergy induced asthma?

Asthma, in terms of breathlessness and wheezing, has been around for thousands of years. But the ancients seem not to have recognised allergy induced asthma much, or at all, when the classic texts were written 2500 years ago. Perhaps it didn’t occur back then.

It is only recently that it has appeared, but not in people living traditional lifestyles, or not at least until they adopt a ‘Western’ way of life or move to Western countries.

So what is it about the Western way of life that produces allergy induced asthma? And why?

Greater minds than I have held these matters in deep contemplation for 50 years, but with few agreed answers.

And it must be said that I don’t think Chinese medicine has comprehensive solutions yet either, but it does have ways of looking at it that perhaps deserve consideration. Some of the following also follows Japanese acupuncture theories which though based on the original Chinese texts have explored them somewhat differently.

Some of these ideas help to explain possible Western medicine reasons for the asthma.  The following doesn’t pretend to be a completely inclusive list. Some people violently oppose the suggestions, and some suggestions are elephants in the room that nobody in orthodox science or medicine dare question.

All of them are considered to contribute to a deficiency in the Kidney’s defensive Qi system,  so inclining people towards asthma.

 

Allergy induced asthma from the period before birth

  • The hereditary constitution of the parents often predisposes the child to similar conditions, or to conditions associated with them. (From a homoeopathic point of view, it is surprising how often the tubercular tendency – the actual technical term is ‘miasm’ –  appears in the background of people with asthma.)
  • If the child is delivered well before its natural term, the foetus will have lacked the opportunity to grow steadily in its ideal environment, with all the nutrients needed supplied in the combinations and concentrations exactly adjusted to its needs on a minute by minute basis. Lacking these vital nutrients, it lacks the wherewithal for healthy Kidneys and adequate Ming Men energy. This makes it more susceptible to Kidney deficiency syndrome symptoms like allergy induced asthma.
  • Any major factor affecting the mother’s health during pregnancy, weakening her body’s ability to nourish and protect the foetus may reduce the viability of the baby’s Kidney Qi. These include accidents, starvation, privation, shock, emotional trauma, poisons including medical and social (‘party’) drugs, tobacco and alcohol: all may provide a basis for allergy induced asthma in the child.

 

Allergy induced asthma from birth

 

Abdomen Acupuncture: useful to diagnose causes of allergy induced asthma
Image by Aus Acu from Pixabay
 
 
  • If the birth process is prolonged or leads to fetal distress, this may harm the baby’s Kidney Qi, increasing its likelihood as an asthma cause.
  • Some Japanese practitioners have suggested that both Caesarean Section (CS) operations and tying off the umbilical cord too son affect future health:
  • CS operations deprive the infant of the experience of the birth canal, when the child’s head and body are tightly compressed on their way out. One suggestion is that CS birth gives no impetus, particularly to the Lungs and Kidney energies, possibly weakening their ability to react and adapt to life’s circumstances. As you will have read, above, having healthy Kidney and Lung energies are vital if you want to avoid asthma.
  • Tying off the umbilicus too soon after birth may deprive the infant of vital nutrients intended to support the child in its first few minutes out of the womb. Based on this is a Japanese acupuncture treatment for the condition: of course, other aspects of the condition must also be addressed. In Chinese herbal medicine, the mother’s placenta and/or umbilical cord is sometimes used to strengthen the Kidney qi of children with allergy induced asthma, or indeed, asthma of any kind.

 

Allergy induced asthma from post-birth

  • A lack of certain nutrients in the diet of the mother if breast-feeding may produce the wrong kind of prostaglanding and the reduction in the IgG ummunoglobulins that suppress the inflammatory response found in allergy induced asthma…
  • … for example, I have found that the addition of fish oils and/or omega 3 oils to the mother’s diet, and later to the child’s diet, can often reduce the inflammatory responses and enable children to settle down more easily, sleep better, have less skin or asthma type problems and learn more easily. Of course, no single dietary change works for everyone.
  • An ‘elephant in the room’ for allergy induced asthma is the possible consequences of vaccination/immunisation. These introduce attenuated disease or disease-like matter into the body in the expectation that the body will develop antibodies to the disease, so preventing its occurrence. In the UK, up to 20 different injections may be given to the infant before it is 24 months old, in the hope that giving them early prevents a big immune reaction (because the child’s immune system is not fully developed until around 24 months and, because of that immunity deficit, the child is more susceptible to these diseases at that time.) 
Syringe used for vaccination, a possible cause of ashtma
Photo by Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash

Primary and Secondary actions of medications

  • I suspect that Western medicine has not fully appreciated the significance or implications of the primary and secondary actions of medicines and drugs, including vaccinations. (NB – vaccination is in no way comparable to the principle behind homoeopathy.) 
  • Another objection to early immunisation like this is that the injections also contain other substances which are necessarily there to ‘carry’ the disease matter but themselves may be poisonous. In Chinese medicine, besides respiration, the Lungs rule the skin and the Kidneys provide the means to warm and moisturise it. Introducing disease-like matter through the skin may interfere with the Lung functions, and that the body has to metabolise the stuff and ultimately expel it via urine may upset Kidney function, both of which may lead to allergy induced asthma. NB There are many more issues surrounding vaccination than those mentioned here.
  • Quite apart from the above on vaccination, animal research shows some kinds of vaccination may produce asthma or eczema in susceptible people because they induce IgE antibody formation which leads to inflammation.
  • Breast milk from some mothers who eat dairy food and some kinds of fish may cause allergy induced asthma in their breastfed offspring, or at least if the babies were too young when first introduced to it.
  • Modern experience suggests that exposure to ‘dirt’ and animal dander early in life may teach a child’s immune systems (eg Kidney and Lung functions in TCM, predominantly) to learn to adapt to them, reducing the likelihood of allergy induced asthma later on.

 

Do you have a contribution to make on this topic?

No doubt readers will have their own views. If you have a contribution to make on allergy induced asthma or on asthma causes in general, please use the form at the bottom of the page on asthma causes.

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