Deep Dive into Traditional Chinese Medicine
Discussion about Dampness
Written by Dr. Shouchun Ma
Translated by Jialing Liu
What is dampness?
Where does it come from? How does it form?
Where does dampness exist in our body?
How would you know if you have dampness in your body?
How to treat and prevent dampness?
You may answer some of the above questions, getting some idea from textbooks, but you may still not clear with all of them. Let’s have some deep thinking on this. I will discuss all these questions in detail. There are two types of dampness: inside and outside. Here we only mention the inside dampness. It is a very important issue with our longevity. I would like to have you all to join the discussion of this topic.
What is dampness? (1)
Dampness is a kind of liquid, a toxic liquid in our body. Athlete’s foot with yellow, smelled sticky exudation is one kind of dampness. Exudation of eczema is another type of dampness. Dampness can hide in any place inside of body and it’s hard to get rid of it.
Dampness is a production of diet metabolism which can cause disease. We call it secondary pathogen.
Dampness is lingering and it is hard to be fully treated.
Dampness is heavy turbid, and usually stay in patient’s lower body and joints.
Dampness can transform to phlegm. We call it dampness phlegm.
Dampness can grab with other pathogens or toxins easily, making them stay inside the body, hard to get rid of. For example, dampness combines with cold comes cold dampness; with heat comes heat dampness; with wind comes wind dampness; with toxin calls toxin dampness; with stasis comes stasis dampness, etc.
West medicine hasn’t defined dampness yet. There is no disease named by dampness, nor corresponding treatment.
Where does dampness come from? (2)
Dampness comes from our food and drink. Instead of being out of body, the waste of the metabolism stays in our body forms dampness.
All the organs of our body are involved in our diet metabolism. Spleen plays the most important role with dampness forming.
Spleen does two jobs. First, spleen digests and absorbs, then transports all the essence from food to nourish all over the body. During the transportation, the waste should be excreted through SanJiao (Triple Burner, an organ system regulates the flow of energy through the organs). It can be excreted from sweating, urination, bowl movement, tear, saliva, or through skin or breathing.
If your spleen is week, or you eat too much, your spleen can only do the first job which is digests and absorbs without do the second one job – transportation. Dampness stays in your body. You may gain weight, become weak or frail, and think slow.
Where does dampness exist in our body? (3)
In TCM, the spleen is in charge of abdomen, muscle, and limbs, and those places are also where dampness likes to stay.
Beside those places, dampness can stay almost everywhere in our body, for example, skin, muscle, tendon, bone, blood vessel, organs, head and brain, you name it. Sanjiao is the pathway of dampness. Dampness can cause various symptoms, such as, but not limited to the following:
- If dampness stays at the skin, itching may occur
- If dampness stays in the head and brain, you may feel drowsy and sleepy
- If dampness stays in the muscle, you may feel heavy
- If dampness blocks the lung, coughing and whizzing may occur repeatedly
- If dampness stays in the stomach, it may cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach bloating
- If dampness stays in the liver, jaundice, poor appetite and aversion to fatty food may occur
- If dampness stays in the spleen, stomachache, stomach bloating, diarrhea with blood or pus may occur
- If dampness stays in the lower body, pudendal itchy, vaginal discharge, turbid urine or bloody urine may occur
When dampness blocks an area, the body qi can’t warm it, and the blood can’t nourish it. Cysts or tumors will be the result if the dampness blocks too long.
One thing that should be pointed out is that according to “Huangdineijing”, an ancient TCM classic work, the dampness is able to get in and stay inside vessels. Based on this theory, we need to consider the spleen as well as dampness when treat cardiovascular disease. In fact, dampness, phlegm, and qi stagnation are always the pathogenesis of this kind of disease.
Some TCM doctors who study western medicine believe that blood stasis is the cause of cardiovascular disease, which leads them to use herbs DanSheng and SanQi to quick the blood and transform the stasis. However, this belief is due to a lack of grasp on western medicine concepts. Even western medicine doesn’t consider cardiovascular disease as blood stasis, but plaque build-up in vessels. In TCM, we consider plaque build-up as dampness or phlegm. Blood stasis happens during the process of hemostasis after injury while the temporary blockage formed by planet plug.
Dr. Ma believes that this error will be recognized sooner or later, but it will come at the cost of years of mistreatment.
How would you know if you have dampness in your body? (4)
It is not that difficult to distinguish dampness. Even a quick look can help us notice that. Patient may have one or more of the following: puffiness, swollen eyelids, yellow or red sclera, oily bright red face, swollen tongue with teeth mark, sticky tongue fur. Some of the patients come with special body smell which is easy sign for experienced practitioner.
Patients with dampness can also have sleep saliva, slow thinking, drowsiness when reading, heaviness in the body, and no desire to do physical exercise. They may drop activities easily due to feeling tired.
If the dampness moves inside the body, there are several exits. Skin is one of the exits to outside. Patient with this type of dampness will have itchy skin or exudate on and off. After several times, it becomes a natural path of dampness and the skin problem will happen repeatedly. This is the reason why dampness is lingering. Same reason, if the dampness goes downward, symptoms will appear in the vulva or toes; if go upward, sleeping saliva appears.
If the dampness doesn’t move, it will stay inside causing drowsiness, sleepiness, tiredness, heaviness in the body, stomach bloating or abdominal bloating, and wheezing or panting.
Patients with dampness who lack the right treatment can cause permanent physical change to one’s body constitution. Lingering dampness may cause many chronic diseases such as cancer.
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