Dampness as a pathogenic factors in Chinese Medicine

Dampness as a pathogenic factors in Chinese Medicine

Chinese: 湿      Pinyin: Shī

Summary: Dampness is a Yin pathogenic factor and it tends to injure Yang. Climatic Dampness refers not only to damp weather but also to living conditions such as living in a damp house.

The characteristics of Dampness are it is wet, heavy and slow and causes a sensation of heaviness. The symptoms of Dampness are extremely varied according to its location and nature (hot or cold).

Dampness, a Yin phenomenon, is like heavy rains, snow or a large body of water. It is wet, heavy and slow and causes a sinking sensation. People with Dampness usually feel sluggish, heavy, dull and stagnant.

Symptoms of Cold Dampness are aggravated in the colder climates and seasons such as winter, while Hot Dampness (usually termed Damp Heat) is aggravated in seasons and climates associated with high levels of humidity.

Dampness can get worse if one is exposed to damp conditions during any season or in any environment: for instance by living in a damp house, wearing wet clothes, wading in water, working in damp places or sitting on damp ground.

Dampness can be both External or Internal. The latter is often caused by a dysfunction of the Spleen's transporting and transforming functions, with impairment of Fluid metabolism and resultant fluid retention. Both External and Internal Dampness can influence each other and are interdependent. External Dampness is more immediately the result of environmental and dietary stresses, but can become chronic and eventually develop into Internal Dampness. Either of them frequently appear with Cold or Heat, which is differentiated as Damp Cold or Damp Heat.

In the body, Dampness appears with excretions and secretions that are turbid, sluggish, sinking, viscous and stagnant as well as copious, slimy, cloudy or sticky. These may be found as eye secretions, diarrhea or mucus in the stool with pus and blood, purulent skin eruptions, etc. As Dampness sinks, its symptoms are often found in the lower part of the body. Its heaviness is often felt as lassitude, a sluggish, stuffy and heavy sensation of the body, or a heavy head. There can also be edema, abdominal distention and chest fullness which, if unattended, can lead to congestive heart failure and symptoms that obstruct the flow of Qi such as nausea, vomiting and/or palpitations. If there is Dampness in the joints, they feel heavy, ache, are stiff or continually painful or sore, as in arthralgia or arthritis.

Damp conditions require time and patience to treat. Dampness-removing diets are often necessary and include the elimination of 'sodden' foods such as high fat, oils, sugar, dairy and flour products. A simple diet is recommended based on low or nonfat foods including whole grains, beans and vegetables.

Chronic Dampness can lead to several complications. For instance it can collect and stagnate, condensing into Phlegm. This can stress the Yang functions of the Spleen and Kidneys and accumulate in the mucus membranes of the body, causing diseases associated with Damp congestion in the Lungs and reproductive organs. Phlegm, being heavier than common metabolic Dampness, is less Fluidic and easily causes obstruction in the form of lumps, nodules, cysts or tumors. Obstruction of Phlegm in the Lungs results in chronic cough with heavy expectoration.

In general, chronic diseases caused by Dampness are among the most difficult diseases to cure because of their stubborn congested nature.

The main characteristics of Dampness

Dampness is heavy

Dampness is naturally ‘heavy’: this weighs the body down and causes a feeling of tiredness, heaviness of limbs or head, or a fuzzy feeling of the head.

Since Dampness is heavy, it causes a feeling of fullness and oppression of the chest, epigastrium or abdomen and it tends to settle in the Lower Burner.

Dampness is sticky

Dampness is ‘sticky’ and this is reflected in a sticky tongue coating, sticky taste and Slippery pulse.

The sticky nature of Dampness also accounts for its being very difficult to get rid of. It often becomes chronic, manifesting in frequent, recurrent bouts.

Dampness is dirty

Dampness is ‘dirty’ and is reflected in dirty discharges, such as cloudy urine, vaginal discharges or skin diseases characterized by thick and dirty fluids oozing out, such as in certain types of eczema.

Differences between Dampness and Phlegm

Dampness and Phlegm are similar in nature. Both originate from a dysfunction of the Spleen in transforming and transporting fluids. There are, however, some key differences between Dampness and Phlegm:

  1. Dampness can be of exterior or interior origin, whereas Phlegm can only have an interior origin
  2. Interior Dampness originates mostly from a dysfunction of the Spleen in transforming and transporting Body Fluids, whereas the Lungs and Kidneys are also involved in the formation of Phlegm
  3. Dampness primarily affects the lower part of the body while Phlegm primarily affects the middle and upper part of the body
  4. Dampness in the head causes a characteristic feeling of heaviness while Phlegm, also causes dizziness
  5. Phlegm can ‘mist’ the Mind, causing mental problems or sometimes mental retardation in children while Dampness has no such effect
  6. Interior Dampness originates only from a Spleen dysfunction, while Phlegm can also originate from the condensing action of Fire on Body Fluids
  7. Dampness affects mostly the Yang Organs while Phlegm mostly the Yin organs
  8. Although Phlegm has the nature of heaviness, it does not have Dampness’s characteristics of being sticky and dirty
  9. Phlegm can associate with various other pathogenic factors giving rise to Cold-Phlegm, Damp-Phlegm, Wind-Phlegm, Dry-Phlegm, Phlegm-Heat and Qi-Phlegm, while Dampness associates with Cold, Heat or Wind
  10. In terms of herbal treatment, the herbs used to drain Dampness or resolve Phlegm have entirely different therapeutic effects

Internal Dampness

Interior Dampness arises from a deficiency of Spleen and sometimes Kidneys. If the Spleen function of transformation and transportation of Body Fluids fails, these will not be transformed and will accumulate to form Dampness. The symptoms vary based on its location:

Dampness in Stomach and Spleen

Epigastric and abdominal fullness and heaviness, nausea, vomiting, sticky taste, loose stools with mucus, sticky tongue coating, Soggy pulse.

Dampness in Bladder

Urinary difficulty with slight or no pain, cloudy urine, sticky coating on the root of the tongue, Soggy pulse.

Dampness in Intestines

Abdominal fullness and heaviness, loose stools with mucus, sticky coating on the root of the tongue, Soggy pulse.

Dampness in Uterus

Abdominal fullness and heaviness, vaginal discharge, mid-cycle pain and/or bleeding, painful periods, sticky tongue coating on the root, Soggy pulse.

Dampness in Gall-Bladder

Feeling of fullness and pain, sticky tongue coating, Soggy pulse.

Dampness in Liver

Urinary difficulty and pain, cloudy urine, hypogastric fullness and distension, vaginal discharge, genital sores and itching, sticky tongue coating on the root, Soggy pulse.

Dampness in Kidneys

Urinary difficulty and pain, cloudy urine, feeling of heaviness of the back, backache, sticky tongue coating on the root, Soggy pulse.

Dampness in the Channels

Chronic retention of Dampness in the channels and joints is, of course, the main cause of Damp Painful Obstruction Syndrome. This manifests with aching, swelling and heaviness of the joints.

Dampness in Skin

Chronic retention of Dampness in the skin is the main cause of numerous skin diseases, chiefly eczema. Dampness in the skin manifests with vesicles,
papules or with skin lesions oozing fluid, and with puffiness of the skin.

External Dampness

Invasion of external Dampness in Internal Organs

External Dampness can invade the Bladder, Intestines, Stomach, Uterus and Gall Bladder.

Invasion of external Dampness in Bladder

The characteristic symptoms here are: difficult and painful urination, cloudy urine, feeling of heaviness in the lower abdomen, tongue with a thick sticky coating on the root, pulse perhaps Slippery on the Left-Rear position.

Invasion of external Dampness in Stomach

The characteristic symptoms here are: vomiting and/or watery diarrhoea without smell, epigastric pain, a feeling of stuffiness of the epigastrium, cold limbs, no appetite, white, thick and sticky tongue coating, Slippery pulse.

Invasion of external Dampness in Intestines

The characteristic symptoms here are: watery diarrhoea without smell, abdominal pain, a feeling of heaviness, tongue with a sticky thick white coating, Slippery pulse.

Invasion of external Dampness in Uterus

The characteristic symptoms here are: painful period (as a one-off when periods were not previously painful), excessive vaginal discharge, thick sticky white tongue coating on the root, Slippery pulse.

Invasion of external Dampness in Gall-Bladder

The characteristic symptoms here are: hypochondrial pain, a feeling of heaviness, bitter taste, tongue with a sticky yellow coating on one side, Slippery pulse.

Invasion of acute, external Dampness in channels

This is an acute stage of Damp Painful Obstruction Syndrome (Bi Syndrome). When one joint only is affected, it is usually Cold-Dampness; when several joints are affected, it is often due to Damp-Heat.

The main manifestations are achy and swollen joints with a feeling of heaviness occurring suddenly.

Invasion of acute, external Damp-Heat at the Defensive Qi level

External Damp-Heat at Defensive Qi level

The characteristic symptoms here are: aversion to cold, fever, body feels hot to touch, swollen glands, fever higher in the afternoon, headache as if the head was wrapped, a feeling of oppression of the chest and epigastrium, a sticky taste, no thirst, tongue with a white sticky coating (it is white because it is in the beginning stage), Soggy pulse.

External Summer-Heat with Dampness

The characteristic symptoms here are: slight aversion to cold, fever, sweating, headache, a feeling of heaviness of the body, an uncomfortable sensation of the epigastrium, irritability, thirst, Red tongue with a sticky tongue coating, Soggy-Rapid pulse.