Using Acupuncture for Asthma Symptoms

If you or your child has asthma, you may be wondering if acupuncture is useful for improving asthma severity and asthma symptoms. It may seem especially appealing to you because unlike medication, acupuncture has few known side effects, right? Let's take a look.

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Woman receiving acupuncture

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According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

  • Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years in China and other Asian countries.
  • Acupuncture is currently under study for a wide range of conditions.
  • While not common, acupuncture can cause potentially serious side effects and should be delivered only by properly qualified practitioners.

Acupuncture involves the stimulation of certain points on the body, often with needles or electrodes, to gain a therapeutic effect. This is one of the most common complementary procedures with millions of American participating each year for a number of different indications.


A few small clinical trials show that acupuncture may help improve asthma symptoms. But to date, the research is inconclusive, since no one has conducted either a review or a randomized controlled trial—the gold standards in proving a treatment successful.

The most recent Cochrane Collaboration Review, a not for profit group that issues information related to the usefulness of treatments for specific diseases, examining acupuncture for chronic asthma treatment found that while some improvements in asthma were seen, the results were not consistent. The authors concluded "no recommendations" regarding acupuncture as a treatment for asthma could be made.

Additionally, several recent randomized controlled trials using placebo acupuncture treatments—meaning the patients received sham acupuncture or no acupuncture—found no difference in objective measures of asthma control like peak flow, exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, pulmonary function tests, or medication use when comparing patients receiving acupuncture to those receiving placebo.

A few studies have demonstrated decreased amounts of medication needed and improved quality of life, but overall studies have not demonstrated definitive benefit. As a result, there is currently little evidence to support or recommendation that can be made to support acupuncture as an effective treatment for asthma.

Side Effects

While there are relatively few adverse effects associated with acupuncture, that doesn't mean it's 100% safe. In a review of medical studies that looked at adverse effects of acupuncture over a 13-year period, the authors determined that acupuncture can generally be considered a safe treatment."

Fatigue following treatment is not unusual and can be simply treated with rest. While it should not occur when performed correctly, bruising is a potential side effect you should be aware of before beginning acupuncture treatment. Additionally, if you have this side effect commonly you will want to discuss with your acupuncturist or consider a different provider. Also, if you have an issue with needles, some patients report feeling light-headed. Be careful rising after your first few treatments until you know your response.

During the procedure, you may experience muscle twitching. This is not really a side effect, but a consequence of the procedure and is normal. Sometimes muscle spasm can be significant enough to cause pain. Let your acupuncturist know, but do not be alarmed.

A Word From Verywell

Acupuncture may help some people with asthma breathe better, but the evidence supporting this procedure for the treatment of asthma is significantly lacking.

Before you seek out a practitioner, be sure to mention this to your regular healthcare provider.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Acupuncture: In Depth.

  2. Mccarney RW, Brinkhaus B, Lasserson TJ, Linde K. Acupuncture for chronic asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD000008. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000008.pub2

  3. Medici TC, Grebski E, Wu J, Hinz G, Wüthrich B. Acupuncture and bronchial asthma: a long-term randomized study of the effects of real versus sham acupuncture compared to controls in patients with bronchial asthma. J Altern Complement Med. 2002;8(6):737-50. doi:10.1089/10755530260511748

  4. Yin LM, Wang Y, Fan L, et al. Efficacy of acupuncture for chronic asthma: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2015;16:424. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0947-z

  5. Norheim AJ. Adverse effects of acupuncture: a study of the literature for the years 1981-1994. J Altern Complement Med. 1996;2(2):291-7. doi:10.1089/acm.1996.2.291

Additional Reading
  • Gruber W, Eber E, Malle-Scheid D, et al. Laser acupuncture in children and adolescents with exercise-induced asthma. Thorax 2002, 57:222–225.
  • Malmstrom M, Ahlner J, Carlsson C, et al. No effect of Chinese acupuncture on isocapnic hyperventilation with cold air in asthmatics, measured with impulse oscillometry. Acupunct Med 2002, 20:66–73.
  • Medici TC, Grebski E, Wu J, et al. Acupuncture and bronchial asthma: a long-term randomized study of the effects of real versus sham acupuncture compared to controls in patients with bronchial asthma. J Altern Complement Med 2002, 8:737–750.
  • Norheim AJ. Adverse effects of acupuncture: a study of the literature for the years 1981–1994. J Altern Complement Med 1996, 2:291–297.
  • Shapira MY, Berkman N, Ben-David G, et al. Short-term acupuncture therapy is of no benefit in patients with moderate persistent asthma. Chest 2002,121:1396–1400.