Difficulty swallowing according to Chinese Medicine

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Difficulty swallowing can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like difficulty swallowing here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here difficulty swallowing is often associated with feeling of a lump in the throat which comes and goes, stuffiness of chest and diaphragm and irritability in the pattern “Qi-Phlegm”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause difficulty swallowing.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of difficulty swallowing we’ve identified two herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat difficulty swallowing.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause difficulty swallowing

In Chinese Medicine difficulty swallowing is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang, a formula used for Qi-Phlegm

Qi-Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

Also often called "plum-stone" or "plum-pit" syndrome, the main characteristic of Qi-Phlegm is a feeling of swelling in the throat and a swallowing difficulty. It typically originates from emotional problems and it appears and disappears according to mood swings.

In addition to difficulty swallowing, other symptoms associated with Qi-Phlegm include feeling of a lump in the throat which comes and goes, stuffiness of chest and diaphragm and irritability.

Qi-Phlegm is often treated with Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that promote qi movement", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the flow of Qi, treats esophageal spasm".

Read more about Qi-Phlegm here

Water Buffalo Horns (Shui Niu Jiao) is the king ingredient for Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, a formula used for Heat in the Blood

Heat in the Blood

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu)

Tongue color: Red

Heat in the Blood (or Blood-Heat) refers to a condition whereby Heat, as a so-called "Pernicious Influence", entered the Blood. This invasion tends to accelerate Blood flow (leading to a faster pulse) and to manifest itself in various types of bleeding as well as other symptoms.

In addition to difficulty swallowing, other symptoms associated with Heat in the Blood include irritability, abdominal pain and dizziness.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Heat in the Blood is associated with health issues such as Early Menstruation, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Heat in the Blood is often treated with Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Water Buffalo Horns - Shui Niu Jiao - as a key herb). Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear nutritive-level heat", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Treats severe fevers and Heat in the Blood system".

Read more about Heat in the Blood here

Two herbal formulas that might help with difficulty swallowing

Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Regulates the flow of Qi, treats esophageal spasm. Clears Phlegm.

Why might Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi-Phlegm' of which difficulty swallowing is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi-Phlegm include feeling of a lump in the throat which comes and goes, stuffiness of chest and diaphragm and irritability.

Read more about Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang here

Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Treats severe fevers and Heat in the Blood system. Removes Blood Stagnation.

Why might Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heat in the Blood' of which difficulty swallowing is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heat In The Blood include irritability, abdominal pain and dizziness.

Read more about Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat difficulty swallowing

Why might Water Buffalo Horn (Shui Niu Jiao) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a key herb in Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Heat in the Blood' (a pattern with difficulty swallowing as a symptom)

Water Buffalo Horns is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter and Salty. It targets the Stomach, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Cools the Blood, drains Fire and stops reckless movement of Blood. Clears Heat and Fire and stops tremors and convulsions. Cools Fire and expels toxins.

Read more about Water Buffalo Horns here

Why might Houpu Magnolia Bark (Hou Pu) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a key herb in Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Qi-Phlegm' (a pattern with difficulty swallowing as a symptom)

Houpu Magnolia Bark is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Moves Rebellious Qi downward, dries Dampness and relieves Food Stagnation. Transforms Phlegm and redirects Rebellious Qi of the Lung.

Read more about Houpu Magnolia Bark here

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a key herb in Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Qi-Phlegm' (a pattern with difficulty swallowing as a symptom)

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Amomum Fruit (Sha Ren) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a herb specifically indicated to treat difficulty swallowing as can be seen on Amomum Fruit's page.

Amomum Fruits is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and transforms Dampness. Promotes the movement of Qi for Damp and Stagnant conditions of the Stomach and Spleen. Settles a restless fetus and stops morning sickness. Prevents cloying and Stagnation sometimes caused by tonifying herbs.

Read more about Amomum Fruits here

Why might Ginseng Leaf (Ren Shen Ye) help with difficulty swallowing?

Because it is a herb specifically indicated to treat difficulty swallowing as can be seen on Ginseng Leaf's page.

Ginseng Leaves is a Cool herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Qi and Lungs. Dispels Summer-Heat and engenders body Fluids.

Read more about Ginseng Leaves here