Acupuncture for chronic asthma

Acupuncture is a treatment originating from traditional Chinese medicine. It consists of the stimulation of defined points on the skin (mostly by insertion of needles). The objective of this review was to assess whether there is evidence from randomised controlled trials that asthma patients benefit from acupuncture. The studies included in the review were of variable quality and had inconsistent results. Future research should concentrate on establishing whether there is a non-specific component of acupuncture which benefits recipients of treatment. There should be an assessment not merely of placebo treatment, but also of 'no treatment' as well. There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations about the value of acupuncture as a treatment for asthma based on current evidence.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is not enough evidence to make recommendations about the value of acupuncture in asthma treatment. Further research needs to consider the complexities and different types of acupuncture.

Read the full abstract...

Acupuncture has traditionally been used to treat asthma in China and is used increasingly for this purpose internationally.


The objective of this review was to assess the effects of acupuncture for the treatment of asthma or asthma-like symptoms.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register (last searched August 2008), the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field trials register, AMED, and reference lists of articles. We also contacted trialists and researchers in the field of complementary and alternative medical research.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised and possibly randomised trials using needle acupuncture or other forms of stimulation of acupuncture. Any form of control treatment was considered (no treatment in addition to conventional asthma treatment, sham or placebo interventions, active comparator interventions). Studies were included provided outcome was assessed at one week or more.

Data collection and analysis: 

At least two reviewers independently assessed trial quality. A reviewer experienced in acupuncture assessed the adequacy of the active and sham acupuncture used in the studies. Study authors were contacted for missing information.

Main results: 

Twelve studies met the inclusion criteria recruiting 350 participants. Trial reporting was poor and trial quality was deemed inadequate to generalise findings. There was variation in the type of active and sham acupuncture, the outcomes measured and time-points presented. The points used in the sham arm of some studies are used for the treatment of asthma according to traditional Chinese medicine. Two studies used individualised treatment strategies and one study used a combination strategy of formula acupuncture with the addition of individualised points. No statistically significant or clinically relevant effects were found for acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture. Data from two small studies were pooled for lung function (post-treatment FEV1): Standardised Mean Difference 0.12, 95% confidence interval -0.31 to 0.55).