Lung Phlegm Fluids

Lung Phlegm Fluids is the name of a syndrome in Chinese medicine, meaning that it's the name for a set of symptoms with a pattern understood in Chinese medicine.

This syndrome usually comes after a long period of doing the wrong thing, and by that time you're usually old, it has become chronic and it's hard to shift. Often people think it's incurable, but Chinese medicine offers hope and a way forward, at least.

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How do you get 'Lung Phlegm Fluids'?

Background factors include:

  • Yang deficiency, particularly of the Spleen and Kidneys. How do you get this? Your yang energy is weakened by a range of factors, including getting Cold too often, and/or over-straining yourself physically too much. It then appears with age, when your body loses its ability to keep warm so easily.
  • Too much physical work, over a long period. This also leads to Yang deficiency, but need not mean over-straining: it can just be working hard - physically - for too many years without adequate rest and time to recuperate.
  • Diet: Chinese medicine puts a lot of emphasis on the right foods, eaten appropriately. For more on this read Nutrition. As we all know, (or hope) the odd 'pig-out' on food really doesn't matter that much, unless we are already sick or very sensitive to what we eat. Over millennia, our genes had to learn to cope with periods of plenty and others of famine so most of us arrive with the genetic tools to cope with a huge range of situations. But only recently have we had - in many Western developed countries - ongoing plenty and ingenious ways to persuade us to eat more than we need. 
  • Over-eating strains our Spleen Yang energy, all the more so if we sit around after the meal or even go to sleep. The situations that strain our Spleen Yang energy most are listed here. The 'wrong' foods are cold, raw foods, and foods that take a lot energy to digest, like greasy food, very rich food, sweet foods and dairy food. (Think of all the foods that you 'gross out' on at Christmas, especially the puddings, fats and cakes, then add in cold and raw foods, and you'll get the idea.) 
  • Even if you don't over-eat, but you still eat the wrong foods long-term, you may be at risk of Lung Phlegm Fluids. Vegetarians who eat just cold, raw food, beware, even if the food is organic and supposedly 'good for you'!

So what happens?

With reduced Yang energy your body can't fight the good fight, which in this case means it can't digest food properly. In Western medical terms it is probably acid deficient, and your intestines will have lost some of their efficiency.

When you then throw at your digestion cold, raw foods, or rich, greasy foods, it tends to turn these not into good Blood and Qi, which would circulate to nourish your body and brain, but Phlegm and mucus.

An ancient observation in Chinese medicine is that although the Spleen is 'responsible' for allowing Phlegm to manifest, much of this phlegm is stored in your lungs.

Phlegm covers a multitude of factors, so do read about it.

Then, because again of the Yang deficiency, your body can't transform the phlegm into urine, so it remains in your lungs, watery and sloshing around.

Symptoms of Lung Phlegm Fluids

  • Cough. This is another of those 'wet' coughs, but more watery than that of Lung Phlegm Cold. The mucus that appears is usually frothy or bubbly, and watery: often hardly even white in colour.
  • Chest feels as if it's half-full of liquid, plashing around inside. No position is comfortable, though sleep is easier sitting up in bed a bit.
  • Chest feels full, heavy, oppressed. Hard to breathe properly.
  • Shortness of breath. Even walking can be a problem, let alone climbing stairs. The fluids prevent oxygen reaching the blood in your lungs, and you don't have the oomph (technical term for Yang energy) to clear them.
  • Even when sitting quietly, it may be hard to talk because of the effort and the amount of fluids that obstruct your voice.
  • You may find these fluids are easily brought up. You almost certainly have a supply of paper tissues to hand.
  • You feel as if your brain is in a fog; muzzy; confused; heavy. In Chinese medicine clear Yang energy can't ascend smoothly to your head because it is obstructed by the lung phlegm fluids.
  • That confused feeling may extend to a real sense of dizziness, or unsteadiness on your feet.
  • You feel cold, and avoid the cold (... because you lack Yang energy to combat Cold and boil away the fluids).
  • Depending on how weak your Lung Qi is, you may or may not find it easy to cough or hawk up the fluids. 
  • Pulse: depending on which symptoms are strong, it can be soft or soggy (more indicative of Damp) or wiry, (suggesting tension and difficulty and possibly pain as well as phlegm) or fine, (suggesting various kinds of deficiency, including the presence of Damp) or slippery (here suggesting Phlegm and impaired digestion). It can be a combination of these.
  • Tongue: usually pale, indicating Blood deficiency from weak digestion and poor dietary habits: with a coating that is quite thick and sticky pointing to the presence of Phlegm.

What happens next?

If this syndrome continues, with its background of Yang weakness in the Spleen, Lungs and Kidneys, things will eventually worsen.

Because the Lung phlegm fluids are in the chest area, known in Chinese medicine as the upper (burning) space - also occupied by the Heart - their presence may eventually interfere with the Yang energy of the Heart.

What this means is that the Heart Yang fails to pump properly - so your heart beat becomes less reliable, typically causing palpitations - plus you get an 'overflow' of liquids in the body as a whole, starting with oedema in the legs.

From lack of Yang you get coldness. Because your Yang energy is insufficient to transform the fluids, they gradually well upwards into your abdomen, distending it.

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Kidney yang deficiency reduces your ability to urinate, so fluids continue to accumulate and Heart Yang deficiency leads to more palpitations: having your lungs feeling 'full' means breathlessness and probably a diagnosis such as 'asthma'.

Well, if you've followed me so far, you'll realise that with your chest full of phlegm, your heart labouring, an accumulation of fluids in your legs and abdomen now beginning to press upwards restricting proper breathing, a Western doctor would put you on diuretics, heart stimulants, and possibly a nebuliser for your lungs.

You're ill! - and easily susceptible to passing infections.

So, ideally, you'd seek help before getting to this stage.

What treatment helps Lung Phlegm Fluids?

Well, this is a site about Chinese medicine, so don't be surprised when 3000 years of experience suggests treatments like these:

  • Acupuncture: there are a number of acupuncture points that encourage your body to clear Phlegm, transforming it into urine. Other points help your Lung energy work properly, ie start to push fluids downwards rather than allowing them to accumulate upwards: other points stimulate your Spleen and Yang energies.
  • Moxibustion: underlying your problem is a lack of Yang, and moxibustion helps your Yang energy. You need Yang to disperse Yin, represented here by your Lung Phlegm Fluids.
  • There are Chinese herbal formulae to take regularly. The recipes support the action of the acupuncture points. The formula would be designed to suit your particular Lung Phlegm Fluids diagnosis. Nearly everyone with this syndrome would have the same basic formula, tweaked for individuality. You need to take it regularly, as instructed.

What can YOU do to help?

No doubt you want to get better as fast as possible, but your condition of Lung Phlegm Fluids is chronic. That means, whether you like it or not, that the underlying reasons for it have existed for some time, and that it may take you time to recover.

If you are already taking medication from your doctor, that may confuse your Chinese medicine or acupuncture practitioner, and possibly restrict what he or she can do.

For instance, if you are taking medication, he may be reluctant to give you Chinese herbs for your Lung Phlegm Fluids if there is a possibility of interference with the drugs you are taking. (Guess who'd be blamed if unexpected symptoms arose? Not your doctor!)

  • Stop eating foods that make you worseThis can be difficult. It's not that you are 'allergic' or 'sensitive' to the foods - though of course this is not impossible - but your body does not digest them well, and they leave you with Phlegm, which ends up in your lungs. So, ideally, stop raw, cold, dairy, fatty, greasy, chilled, over-refined flours and sweet foods. (Read up which foods weaken your Spleen.)
  • Keep warm. Don't let yourself get cold. If you must be out in cold weather, keep moving, wearing lots.
  • Eat foods that have a warming effect. Read hot foods, but don't go for very hot foods: better are those that are classified as moderately warming.
  • Add ginger to your diet. Sip hot water in which slices of ginger root have been steeped. (See picture, right.)
  • Get plenty of rest. Your Lungs need to recover their energy.
  • Aim to sleep long and deep. If that's difficult (read up pages on insomnia) take regular naps.
  • Avoid 'dirty' air. That means not shutting your windows too tightly. You want a flow of fresh (clean) air through the rooms you live in. (Yes! Warming it with central heating may be costly.) Open fires are fun and comforting but make sure that all the smoke goes up the chimney and not into the room.
  • Keep the rooms you occupy clean: don't let too much dust accumulate. Much of the dust in your house comes from your skin and hair, and helps to thicken your Lung Phlegm Fluids.
  • If you can, don't sit for too long at a time. Get up and move around regularly. This is because, as most people know, deep vein thrombosis occurs more in people who sit still for too long, but also in your case because the presence of Phlegm in your chest further weakens the power of your Heart energy, slowing your circulation even more. Read Blood Stasis. Half an hour is probably the maximum you should sit: then get up and move/walk around for five minutes.
  • Posture. Hunching over a computer or a book? This could have been a contributory factor to your Lung Phlegm Fluids all along: you've got into the habit of constricting your lungs. Beware, also, sports which do this: cycling with drop-handlebars comes to mind. Adopting good posture automatically opens up your lungs and makes breathing easier. How about some gentle yoga?
  • Take breathing lessons. Overcome your pride and get someone to monitor your breathing for a while. It doesn't take long to acquire bad habits, unfortunately, but usually, if you force yourself to do the right thing, it only takes a few weeks to get better habits.
  • Too much exposure to water can aggravate your condition, so avoid long baths, showers and steam-rooms. No cold showers!: no cold baths either. Hydrotherapy may be really helpful later on, but right now, your yang energy is on the floor and needs all the help it can get, so avoid cold and damp.

Lung Qi syndromes include:

Deficiency syndromes:

Full or Excess syndromes:

Interior syndromes of the Lungs

Shared syndromes

Click to read about acupuncture points along the Lung channel.


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