Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine in which thin needles are put into the skin at certain spots on the body. It has used acupuncture for thousands of years to treat a range of health problems. Now acupuncture is becoming more popular in the United States.

There is not yet enough evidence to support acupuncture as an asthma treatment. It may improve your quality of life if you have asthma. But it will not improve lung function and should not replace asthma medicines.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture involves having thin needles put into your skin. The needles stimulate certain points on the body. This is believed to have a health benefit. Acupressure and laser acupuncture are similar techniques that do not use needles.1

The theory is that acupuncture has anti-inflammatory effects. This means it may reduce the number of cells your immune system puts out that cause inflammation. Or it may help produce chemicals that fight inflammation. This may reduce airway inflammation for people with asthma.2,3

Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years in China and other Asian countries. It is a popular complementary treatment, used along with conventional healthcare in the United States.4

Does acupuncture improve asthma symptoms?

There is little evidence to support acupuncture as an asthma treatment. In fact, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) does not recommend acupuncture to treat asthma. The NHLBI made this recommendation after looking at studies that found that acupuncture showed no clinical benefits in treating asthma.5

There have been more studies since the NHLBI recommendations came out. Some studies have shown that acupuncture may improve quality of life or reduce the amount of medicine a person with asthma needs. It may help some people with asthma feel better. So, some people may benefit from using both acupuncture and conventional therapies.6-8

What are the possible side effects?

Acupuncture is generally safe procedure with few side effects. However, some side effects can occur, especially if the procedure is done incorrectly. These include:4

  • Bruising
  • Muscle twitching
  • Pain or bleeding at the insertion site

More serious complications are rare but have been reported. A review of acupuncture literature identified these complications:4,9

  • Tissue or organ damage, such as collapsed lung or spinal cord injury
  • Infections, such as hepatitis
  • Local allergic reactions

These are not all the possible side effects of acupuncture. If you want to try acupuncture, ask your doctor to recommend an experienced and licensed acupuncturist. The acupuncturist will make sure the procedure is done safely and correctly. They can also make sure to monitor your asthma during the procedure.1

You also should call your doctor if you notice any changes that concern you when using acupuncture.

Remember, acupuncture and other complementary therapies should never replace asthma medicines prescribed by your doctor. When combined with routine care, it may improve your quality of life.

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