Asthma is among the world’s most prevalent respiratory diseases, and it’s extremely common in the U.S. as well. Almost one in ten Americans suffer from asthma, and the rates tend to be higher in urban areas, where pollutants and smog are more abundant.
That’s the case in Houston, one of the country’s smoggiest cities. The Bayou City is an interesting example because unlike most urban centers, Houston’s air pollution isn’t concentrated in a single area. It’s present in most neighborhoods, including West University, Meyerland, The Heights and Spring Branch. Houston’s east side – with its cluster of refineries – is the highest pollution hotspot, although the city is dotted with them.
That means asthma patients in Houston are at an increased risk of developing symptoms and experiencing an asthma attack. Many people turn to medications and inhalers to treat their symptoms, but there are additional options.
Acupuncture, for example, has shown promise in treating asthma and is considered a worthwhile adjunct therapy for many people. Here, we’ll address how a 3,000-year-old form of medicine can help today’s asthma patients.
Just How Bad is Houston's Air Quality?
The Bayou City’s principal bayou – Buffalo Bayou – courses around several refinery complexes in east and southeast Houston, and these refineries contribute to poor air quality in the city. Other factors on air quality include ozone, which is supercharged by the city’s extreme heat and sun – and vehicle traffic. Houstonians take some of the longest commutes in the nation.
All of this adds up to elevated levels of particulate matter (PM) – a known environmental risk factor for asthma in children. 2011-2015 data taken from the Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions shows that almost all of Houston inside Beltway 8 shows moderately high levels of PMs. It’s even worse around the 610 Loop, with many inner-city neighborhoods sitting inside PM hotspots where the EPA recommends action.
How Smog Aggravates Asthma and Respiratory and Circulatory Systems
All that smog, ozone and particulate matter adds up to put our respiratory and circulatory systems at risk. Here’s a closer look at how air pollution affects both:
As the first point of contact with the pollutants we breathe in, our sinuses, bronchial tubes, throat, and lungs bear the brunt of pollution’s impact. Wheezing, phlegm production, coughing, inflammation, and increased frequency/severity of asthma attacks are common.
Air pollution can also cause complications in newborns or young children if their mother was exposed to pollution during pregnancy. PM levels may also be correlated with certain lung cancers.
It’s obvious why air pollution may damage respiratory organs, but the damage doesn’t stop there. When inhaled, air pollutants may be captured by the bloodstream, where they may affect the heart and blood vessels. Specifically, air pollutants can harden and constrict the vessels, resulting in elevated blood pressure, clotting risk, and a higher chance of developing COPD and other chronic circulatory conditions.
Clearly, it’s worth avoiding the worst consequences of air pollution. For many people, that means reducing the severity of asthma symptoms, which can be severe enough to trigger a medical emergency.
How Acupuncture Can Help Asthma Patients Dealing with Houston's Smog?
The underlying mechanisms that produce asthma attacks are largely driven by inflammation. That’s not a surprise, as asthma itself is characterized by inflamed bronchial tubes. Controlling inflammation can reduce the impact that pollutants or allergens have on the body – a process that acupuncture is well-suited for.
During an acupuncture session, fine needles are inserted into the skin. They’re placed deep enough to activate the nervous system but not deep enough to cause pain or discomfort.
There are several potential benefits associated with acupuncture. Treatment is associated with the following benefits:
- Reduced inflammation
- Reduced pain
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Better blood flow and circulatory performance
- Better hormone regulation
- Better nervous system response
These systemic effects of acupuncture haven’t been completely explained, but researchers believe that treatment can improve the body’s own self-healing and self-regulating processes, helping the body help itself, essentially.
For asthma patients, the above benefits may offer major relief to asthma patients. Early research provides hope, too. Relevant studies regarding acupuncture and asthma include:
- A 2017 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. This study considered 1,445 allergic asthma patients (357 randomized) split into control and experimental groups. During the study, the experimental group received 15 acupuncture treatments over a three-month span. At the end of the study, the research team used the asthma quality of life questionnaire to measure each participant’s response to treatment.
Following treatment, the acupuncture group reported greater improvement in symptoms – benefits that lasted for six months following the study’s conclusion.
- A 2000 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The patient group was small in this study (38 members altogether), but the researchers used various biological criteria to measure success. Specifically, the research team measured levels of immune activity in the body following acupuncture – mainly by tracking cytokines like interleukin.
Cytokines are signaling proteins responsible for communicating with and regulating the function of various immune cells. Interleukin is one of many cytokines and is responsible for accelerating the body’s immune system response. This is a good thing if kept in check, but inflammatory conditions like asthma are partly driven by a too-severe immune system response. By reducing cytokine activity, inflammation can also be better controlled.
That’s what the researchers determined during their study. Acupuncture reduced the presence of interleukin in the bloodstream, suggesting that treatment could help control inflammation and therefore reduce the severity of asthma symptoms.
There are additional studies that confirm these results, making acupuncture an emerging option for asthma patients in Houston
Is Houston Smog Causing Asthma Attacks? A Houston Acupuncturist May Be Able To Help
There’s no escaping air pollution in Houston, as asthma patients already know. There is enough smog, ozone and particulates in the city to trigger an asthma attack.
But there’s hope for asthma patients in the form of acupuncture. When used in combination with medication, acupuncture can help improve asthma symptoms and support whole body, systemic health.
If you’re looking for additional relief from asthma, a licensed Houston acupuncturist can develop an individualized treatment plan and administer acupuncture using the safest and most sanitary practices.