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Chronic emphysema is a serious, degenerative lung disease that reduces the body's ability to absorb oxygen. It's hallmark symptom is feeling short of breath. Other prominent symptoms include a chronic (long-term) cough, excessive coughing up of mucus and saliva (known as sputum), and breathlessness. Emphysema is just one of the lung diseases that make up the medical condition known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deeply concerns both Western medical practitioners, as well as acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioners, because in the US it is the third leading cause of death. One particular trepidation surrounds receiving an accurate diagnosis in a timely manner, which has proven to be difficult since the symptoms often start slowly. It may be years before any major problems occur, and for this reason, treatment and lifestyle adjustments may be delayed.

It is very important to seek medical treatment immediately if you present with one or more of the following:

1. You can no longer climb stairs or walk without becoming short of breath

2. Your lips and/or fingernails become blue when you exert yourself

3. You notice your mental abilities are failing

According to the American Lung Association, long-term tobacco smoking causes approximately 80-90 percent of the deaths in cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The two most common diseases comprising the condition are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Genetics, although a lesser cause, are a contributor in about 1 percent of cases.

In addition to smoking, there are other causes of chronic emphysema. Long-term exposure to breathing in toxins such as air pollution, manufacturing fumes and other airborne irritants may contribute to development of the disease. In general, as symptoms come on gradually, it most often strikes people between 40 and 60 years old.

There are many ways a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine may help. First, if you need help breaking a smoking addiction, there are very specific ear acupuncture and/or body acupuncture protocols designed to do just that. Second, there are acupuncture treatments to assist your lungs by helping them relax. Once your body can relax, blood and airflow may increase, which helps your breathing. Third, dietary recommendations can help your digestive system strengthen, which in turn supports your immune system.

During your acupuncture and Oriental medicine visit, your practitioner will assess your symptoms and specifically design a treatment for you. For example, you may show signs of phlegm in the lungs if you constantly bring up sputum, experience breathlessness even when at rest, and your tongue has a thick layer of white or yellow coating on it. A thick tongue coating, plus your other symptoms, indicates to your practitioner that the air passages in your lungs may need phlegm removed from them.

By observing the tongue, a practitioner can assess the interior state of the body. In the case of chronic emphysema, the tongue may reflect a disconnect between your lungs or other internal organs. This is a common practice used to diagnose in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, known simply as tongue diagnosis.

In addition to acupuncture, you may receive dietary advice to help relieve your symptoms. When the body is constantly coughing up sputum, reducing your intake of fatty, cloying foods can help reduce phlegm production. Avocados, nuts and olive oil provide a fat source that can be easier on the digestive system. Warm, fragrant soups are also an option for an easy-to-digest meal.

Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help provide symptom relief!

About the Author:   Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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