Dryness in the desert
Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Dryness is one of the external causes of disease that is less common in mild temperate climates. The word describes a syndrome in Chinese medicine.


I knew a 65-year old who was trapped in a train.

Along with many other people on the 90-minute journey, he nearly died when, during a hot, British summer, his train broke down.

When the train broke down, so did its air-conditioning.

The train had no windows that opened. The guard refused to allow the doors to open, for ‘safety’ reasons.

The very over-crowded train got hotter and hotter. Eventually passengers took it in turns to lie on the floor to keep cool.

Eventually, after five hours, the train was repaired. Most passengers had to be taken to hospital. A few died, their bodies having been unable to cope with the heat.

The 65-year old slowly recovered his strength over the following 3 months. He hadn’t known that acupuncture might have helped his condition caused by dryness and heat.


It mainly occurs after long exposure to very dry, hot conditions.

But even temperate climates are beginning to suffer more from drought and heat so this syndrome is now more common even there.



If the world warms up, then we’ll face more problems – and need solutions – as described in the book ‘Heart of Dryness’ by James G Workman.

Symptoms of Dryness

This syndrome affects firstly the Lungs and skin, later the Stomach and Intestines.

  • Slight sweating
  • Fever
  • Dryness of skin
  • Dry mouth, nose and throat
  • Sore throat
  • Dry cough
  • Some aversion to cold in mild cases
  • Tongue: dry, may be red, very little coating, or thin
  • Pulse: a little rapid


As the symptoms become more severe, it reaches a deeper level:

  • High fever
  • Aversion to heat and dry air; no aversion to cold
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough now has yellow sputum
  • Thirst
  • Dryness of intestines, leading to constipation and enlargement of the abdomen, worse for pressure
  • Pulse: rapid and slippery
  • Tongue: red with thick yellow coating


Drink More Water?

You might think that drinking lots of water would ‘cure’ this.

While this is sometimes possible, this syndrome may continue even after the body has been replenished with moisture, because it is not just the lack of moisture but the body’s ability to spread the moisture properly that is damaged.

In Chinese medicine, the Lungs have an important role in spreading moisture and when damaged by this syndrome, even in the presence of moisture, may be unable to do their job, until appropriate treatment is received.

When the Lung energy is damaged, you get tired and often low in spirits.

When Lung Yin is damaged – as it can be after prolonged exposure to dry conditions – you develop a cough and more sensitivity to many air-born substances including pollen and fragrances.

This is because the body – specifically your Lungs – cannot moisturise the tissues properly. 

Their job, amongst other things, is to maintain the health of your skin, and for this they need 

  • enough moisture, which they get from what you eat and drink, and 
  • the ability to spread it, which comes from healthy Lungs


Water sprinkler for dryness
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash



Who is in most danger from Dryness?

Who is in danger from dryness?

In extreme conditions, we are all susceptible. But the most common group, apart from the sick and undernourished, are those whose bodies are ageing and less able to repair themselves.

So, during very hot weather, especially hot, dry weather, give consideration to the health of the elderly.

In particular, if someone elderly starts coughing after a very hot spell of weather, or gets giddy or starts falling over more, take special care of them until they can receive professional help.

Encourage them to drink plenty of water! Remember that as they age, bodies get less efficient at reminding their owners of thirst.

In addition, many elderly people dislike having to urinate often, so drink less than they should.

Their bodies can quickly display signs of Lung Yin deficiency, if not of the whole range of Yin deficiency syndrome signs.

What about cooling them with a fan, or by exposing them to a cool breeze?

Chinese medicine says don’t do it. Over 2500 years of observations shows that a cooling fan or a cool breeze easily introduce Wind, another external pathogenic factor.

Then the patient may get Wind-Heat, which can lead to sudden and dangerous symptoms.


What about someone badly dehydrated?

If someone is badly dehydrated, from prolonged thirst or dryness, be very careful!

Don’t give them a big bottle to drink! And don’t let them get cold or too hot: make sure they are covered enough to prevent these.

Just moisten their lips with water until they can move them, then give them a small amount of water in their mouths, so that the tissues gradually become more moisturised and flexible.

This may take some time, so be patient. As soon as they can drink a little, introduce fluids that are, ideally, electrolytically balanced. (The old way to do this, still useful in an emergency, is a mixture of sugar and salt in water – but you don’t need much of either: just a pinch.)

As soon as you can, get professional help. Serious dehydration can lead to death.

It may be within YOUR power to prevent this!

Treating Dryness with Chinese medicine and acupuncture

As explained, the aim is to treat the patient’s Lungs so that they can spread moisture round the body.

Dryness is, by definition, a deficiency of yin fluids.

Lung dryness is potentially a serious cause of disease. It can lead, in terms of Western medicine, to diseases like pneumonia, ongoing dry cough, painful cough, tiredness, dryness throughout the body, pleurisy. It’s not that the Lung dryness causes these diseases, but it makes your body more susceptible to them.

So, in repairing Lung dryness, treatment would aim to

  • strengthen Stomach and Spleen to enable your digestion to absorb food and fluids better
  • tonify your Lungs to help them spread the moisture more evenly
  • Strengthen Yin energy


Some foods are more moisturising. Fruit and vegetables mainly.

Avoid hot foods or foods that are heating.

Too much water or cold fluids weakens your Kidney Yang energy. It is better to sip warm tea regularly.


Jonathan Brand colours

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