Key Learning Points on Damp
So … what’s Damp and Dampness in the Body? (By Dampness, we mean Dampness in TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine!)
Let me tell you about my Aunt!
I had a beautiful and contrary maiden aunt who, dissatisfied with London in her old age migrated to Hove, Sussex, (UK), by the sea.
Then she moved to Camberley in Surrey, (inland, about 50 miles North-West of Hove).
Then she returned to Hove again, and back and forth.
The trouble was that Hove was ‘too bracing’. On the other hand Camberley was ‘too damp’!
She’d been raised in Madras, Southern India then Delhi, Northern India. Britain was very different and her elderly bones objected. What was wrong with Camberley?
Chinese medicine has a shorthand for conditions. It uses ideas to understand health.
These ideas are often easier to understand than the more precise and scientific definitions in Western medicine because Chinese medicine uses words we all use in everyday speech.
Although in Chinese Medicine these ideas are used in a technical sense, it’s not hard to apply them to ourselves.
It’s a problem for Western medicine, which can’t absorb or use the Chinese traditions until it finds some scientific basis for them: until then, Chinese medicine remains at best a ‘pseudoscience‘.
On the other hand, Chinese medicine quickly saw the ideas and advantages of Western medicine, and welcomed it with open arms.
Today it’s raining: a very fine mist. Roads are covered with slippery surface water that sprays up easily. Traffic moves slowly and people heat up fast on exertion because high humidity stops easy evaporation.
Low cloud lies as fog. It makes driving hazardous. With low visibility, people get confused and there are more traffic accidents.
Clothes get quickly sodden: dampness makes them heavy and uncomfortable. Dry things engorge and become sticky and weighty.
Without good insulation, electricity lines short, requiring more power.
Clouds block the sun. If it’s cold, it stays cold. If it’s hot, it stays hot.
In the garden, in summer plants grow fast – other things being equal – especially weeds and grass.
Whereas rain washes dust and rubbish away, damp inclines it to linger. As dust and rubbish build up into piles, seeds and moulds prosper. Things grow where they aren’t wanted. Puddles remain and mosquito larvae multiply.
In winter, cold-damp disinclines gardeners to do anything. But mould still prospers.
If you make wine or beer, you need dampness for yeast to grow. In bread-making too much dampness means the yeast can’t shift flour so bread doesn’t rise properly. Too much sugar and it rises too fast and exhausts itself.
Too much ongoing weather dampness is depressing: it saps the spirit.
You can’t shift the clouds and the mist, the rain and the fog.
You must wait for either the wind to blow them all away or for the sun to come out and burn it all dry. This analogy shows that movement and warmth help to move damp.
It moisturises our skins and keeps us fresh. but too much for too long is a major problem. It’s not a killer but immensely inconvenient and hard to shift.
What happens when you get dampness in the body? If you’ve understood its effect in life, then it’s easy to apply to your body.
Typical of these Spleen dampness symptoms are:
However, it can take on many forms so the following is only a summary (but you only a need a few of them to get a DAMP diagnosis!)
It makes us feel heavy and stiff, often sore. When pressed, flesh only slowly recovers its shape.
Because we are heavy, we move more slowly and we tire faster.
Often stiffness accompanies it: after rest it is sore, we can only start with slow movements and we take time to get going again. In acute Damp we must either keep moving or we stiffen up.
In our body it leads to poor digestion, nausea, sticky or slow stools, retarded or limited urination.
… such as thrush, grows on the skin or in crevices, in our armpits, our mouths, ears (wax) and around and within our genitals. Between our toes we get athlete’s foot.
In our thinking it slows acuity. We can’t remember things; can’t concentrate; get anxious and go over things again and again; get despondent; may get weepy, preferring to be alone; talk hesitantly or reluctantly. We can’t remember things, we get confused.
Head : It gives us a sore heavy head and headache and may combine with another Chinese concept called ‘Phlegm‘ to cause vertigo or dizziness.
Face : swollen and stiff. Causes cracking of joints, pain (worse in the cold). Skin round lips may crack. Lips may swell eg from herpes.
Eyelids get sticky and agglutinated; may dry and be hard to open. Eyes cry easily and we may get pustular inflammations such as conjunctivitis or blepharitis (this often occurs when there is a build-up of Heat too).
Tongue : usually is slightly swollen, often with what look like teeth-marks along the sides, and with a white wet coating. If you have Damp with Heat (Damp-Heat) then your tongue coating is more likely to be yellow and sticky.
Chest area: often feels full, or stuffy, may be itchy (though no sign of a rash), which makes it difficult to breath comfortably.
Even though the mouth may be dry there is often an aversion to drinking. Food often lies heavy in the stomach, especially cold food or drinks. The appetite is usually reduced.
Abdomen: often sore, or feels like liquids awash inside – a kind of fullness. The feeling disinclines you to physical activity, though usually walking helps. Stools may be looser than normal, but not smelly unless Heat is also present. (Sometimes constipation.) Symptoms temporarily improve after a good bowel movement. The abdominal ‘fullness’ makes you less certain about how hungry you are before eating.
Female: when it invades her genital area it often causes cloudy vaginal discharges. (More coloured, ie yellow, if it combines with Heat.) Her breasts may swell before periods.
Urine: cloudy and may be much reduced. Can make it difficult to pee, which feels like burning.
Skin loses its flexibility. Can seem thicker. Swellings such as with glands (eg mumps), or in boils, abscesses, carbuncles, cellulitis. During eczema associated with Damp, discharges are thick and dirty.
Limbs feel sore, bruised, heavy and stiff, may be swollen. Muscles may twitch. There is sometimes a feeling like something crawling on the skin, or numbness: as if something has gone to sleep. Joints ache and swell. Lymphoedema is a form of damp.
TCM theory, which is the bedrock behind much of this site, would say that other forms of excess yin energy can also worsen Dampness in TCM. These would include Cold, and lack of movement (which is actually a lack of yang, although not quite yang deficiency.)
A lack of movement in yin conditions like Cold eventually makes us shiver – a yang response to invasion of yin-cold.
Wet weather, or before a thunderstorm, makes the condition worse.
Working in London, I once cycled to see a patient.
On the way back, I was hot, and in a hurry
to get back to my clinic to see another patient.
There was a sudden thunderstorm
on the way back which soaked me, especially my BACK.
On arrival, I found the patient had already arrived and was in a hurry.
She pleaded for me to treat her immediately and didn’t mind that I was still wet.
The next day, when I woke up, I could hardly move.
My back was very sore and I needed a long soak in a warm bath before I felt better.
Later in the day, after I had been sitting down for 20 minutes
whilst thinking over the treatment for someone,
I realised the stiff soreness had returned.
Only by keeping moving could I keep it at bay.
This was a classic case of external invasion of damp.
If you wonder how I got myself better,
I used a homoeopathic remedy, which worked in a few minutes.
But this was an acute invasion of Damp
(ie it was External Damp, see below),
not chronic Damp,
which would have required more extensive treatment,
whether from Chinese medicine,
acupuncture, homoeopathy or anything else.
Apart from having treatment to clear it from the body, the following can improve dampness conditions in the body.
However, they don’t usually cure it: they just palliate it.
What produces it in the body?
In Chinese medicine there are two potential sources: external and internal.
External damp comes from the factors described above together with, for example,
Wet conditions could also come from wearing wet clothes or standing in a wet place for too long (fishing, for example, even if your skin is protected from the water) or working in wet fields.
Kneeling on cold damp ground can do it too.
Some professional or frequent swimmers develop it.
With externally caused Damp, the pulse is what is called ‘slippery’ and ‘full’ and the tongue‘s coating is thick and sticky.
Many diseases from outside take up residence and produce Damp in your body. Here are just a few that slow you down and make you feel heavy and ill!
Internal Damp can be exacerbated by External Damp factors, but arises also where Spleen qi is weak. Sometimes Spleen qi is weak because Kidney qi is weak.
With internally caused Damp, the pulse is ‘slippery’ and ‘fine’, or ‘floating’ and ‘weak’, and the tongue’s coating is sticky and thinner.
When Spleen qi is weak, it can’t move things around your body properly, so ‘puddles’ of Dampness build up.
Bad food or eating habits lead to Damp formation
Bad diet can cause internal Dampness.
This would include too much
In susceptible people, too many Cold foods produce Cold-Damp symptoms. Likewise, too many Hot foods can produce Damp-Heat symptoms in people predisposed that way.
For more about this, click Nutrition and Foods that Cause Damp.
Internal Dampness is also caused by continued worry, or obsessions, or anxiety and by long periods of intense mental work or study. All these emotional and mental factors weaken the Spleen Qi.
In someone with weak Spleen qi, the side lain on or hanging down or kept immobile for a long period (such as sitting for long periods without moving), may acquire symptoms of damp, such as swelling. That swelling can then cause further problems, preventing the free flow of Qi and Blood.
In some situations, this produces what is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), one possible consequence of Blood Stasis.
Injections of more-or-less anything are, obviously, something wet being pushed inside you! So they can cause damp.
This is all the more likely to happen if you already have a weak Spleen, or already have other signs of damp.
In fact, when immunising babies, make sure they are quite well (including not having a runny nose or a cough or cold) before immunising them, otherwise they may not react in the way you want and you and your doctor may not easily work out what is going on.
For example, how will you know, for SURE, that your baby’s symptoms come from the vaccination and not the pre-existing disease?
Bear in mind that those who administer immunisations do so for the best of reasons and may find it difficult to accept that you or your baby are suffering the ill-effects when there are other possible causes!
By the way, when receiving YOUR dose of a vaccine, the same applies! Make sure you’re feeling well beforehand, and don’t have any other medical intervention – including another immunisation – at the same time. Otherwise, how will you know what caused your problems?
Damp is what is called a Yin-type pathogenic factor. (Pathogenic means ‘illness-causing’.) It is a form of excess Yin.
Being Yin in nature, it lacks movement in itself and inhibits movement in you. It combines easily with Cold and Heat. With the latter it produces symptoms of Damp-Heat.
In the UK we are very familiar with how it combines with Cold to create Cold-Damp conditions such as Spleen Cold Damp.
It sticks around! It’s hard to get rid of. Like water, it flows downwards easily, so it affects lower parts of the body and limbs more often than upper parts, or may start in an upper area and seep downwards.
However, if it starts in the legs, it may creep up to the abdomen, just like rising damp from a basement, when moisture rises in the walls.
Dampness, being Yin, gets in the way of Yang, and slows it down. Normally clear Yang rises to the head enabling us to think clearly and act decisively. If Dampness invades, this clear Yang doesn’t reach the head so we feel confused, heavy-headed, depressed and unable to take decisions.
Acting as an obstruction to the free flow of qi, it causes swelling – for example oedema, and the swellings further impede the movement of qi. Where qi doesn’t move smoothly, there is pain and discomfort, and with Dampness this feels like stiffness, fullness and heaviness.
Various ways: although this is a site devoted to acupuncture, I have had considerable success treating Dampness with Homoeopathic remedies – but you must find the right remedy for your particular symptoms, which can take experience and time.
Herbs in Chinese medicine come in various categories, one of which aims specifically to clear dampness. One or more herbs from this category would be used in a formula with other herbs to moderate, enhance or direct the principal herb’s actions.
Herbs used in the kitchen that help your body clear Dampness include ginger, cardamom, cloves, coriander, basil, rosemary, oregano, sage, fennel and parsley: fresh if possible. Dried herbs also work.
We’ve got a whole page on foods to clear Damp.
Acupuncture points to treat Damp include mainly points that stimulate Spleen qi. Some of these lie on the Spleen meridian, for example, Spleen 3, 6 and Spleen 9. But please don’t start poking yourself at these points if you don’t know what you’re doing! Also, there are many other points, on other meridians, that act powerfully to clear Dampness in the Body.
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Bad diet can cause Dampness in the body. This would include too much sweet food, or cold, iced or chilled food (or drink), or indigestible food.
Bad eating habits also contribute, like eating too fast, or eating too much junk food, or not chewing properly. Don’t skip over this matter. It’s so important that this is its second mention on the page! It really is more important than you think! Eat slowly and in relaxed surroundings. Otherwise, even with good food you may produce Dampness in the Body!
In susceptible people, too many
For more about this, click Nutrition.
Regular use of the following herbs may reduce Damp but please first read my disclaimer!
Food works more slowly than herbs, which sometimes work more slowly than medication from your doctor.
With food, the first thing is to stop foods (see above) that make the situation worse.
Only then increase foods that help, such as – cooked, of course:
This arises from living not merely in damp conditions, but cold and damp conditions in general, or from getting cold and damp after exercise when one was warm and sweaty. What are the symptoms?
Cold foods can produce it and will worsen it.
Some people respond to either internal or external causes of Damp not with Cold-Damp symptoms but with Damp-Heat.
This is also more likely after
With Damp-Heat, in addition to or in variation of the above general symptoms of Dampness,
On this page we’ve covered:
From this page on Damp, click here to get to Acupuncture Theory.
For how other Zangfu are affected when Heat is also present, click on Liver or Gallbladder.
Check my collection of books:
Too much food with the Salty taste in Chinese medicine will make you ill. But you need some! Which foods do they mean?
The spicy taste in Chinese medicine adds lightness and energy to your diet, helping your lungs work better. You need some, but not too much!
Foods classified as having a sweet taste in Chinese medicine are vital for health. But too little or too much ‘sweet’ food leads to disease.
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