Lung Dryness: from Dry Places and the Wrong Food

Lung dryness needs nourishment from the breath
Photo by Nienke Broeksema on Unsplash
  • Lung dryness comes from hot, dry conditions, including radiation
  • More than just a dry cough, it makes you susceptible to other lung problems
  • Read what makes it worse
  • Discover how your can help yourself, and what treatments to get
Lung Dryness is a syndrome in Chinese medicine. ‘Syndrome’ means it’s one of the ways that Chinese medicine considers that your Lung energy may misbehave.

Not surprisingly, one of the most obvious symptoms of Lung Dryness is dryness! This pervades the whole syndrome.


What causes Lung Dryness?

Main External reason – dry places

  • Living too long in very dry conditions, such as desert areas
  • Dry conditions such as long periods of hot and dry weather predispose people to Lung Dryness. This might occur during a heatwave even in temperate countries, but certainly could occur in many hot desert-like countries when the heat dries out mucus in the day and the night may be cold but is also dry, offering no relief.
  • Working in very dry conditions can also produce this, especially where hot and dry. In past times it occurred in coal-powered ships where the stokers were exposed to heat. Nowadays it might occur in iron-smelting plants or in hot kitchens or among chefs who work full-time with pizza ovens. I expect long periods in the Sahara desert in North Africa for soldiers during WW2 produced this condition.
  • Normally this would be a hot, dry place, but cold dry places have similar effects, such as in some Arctic environments or in freezing – dry – food processing plants. These might introduce Cold as well, of course.
  • Smoking narcotics like tobacco for too long can produce this. At least in the UK until recently, smoker’s cough was common among lifelong smokers but this was frequently mixed up with dry phlegm, caused by poor diet leading to phlegm dried by the tobacco smoking. So the smoker had a combined syndrome of Lung Dry Phlegm and Lung Dryness (this page). It was complicated to treat because the dryness needed to be moisturised but doing so could worsen the phlegm. Most people suffering from it lacked the resources to continue treatment for long enough to reach a cure – and, of course, to stop smoking.
  • A background of Lung Yin deficiency


Secondary reason – bad eating habits

In Chinese medicine, how and what we eat and drink turns up again and again as underlying causes of ill-health.

We all know that food is our first medicine, but it’s also a comfort and a reason for letting off steam with friends. Sometimes we forget its therapeutic effect.

Good food and digestion produce good Qi and Blood, daily requirements for health.

This Qi and Blood feed all our zang-fu energy organs, including our Lungs. It is vital that our lungs retain their moisture levels: this comes from our Blood, a yin resource.

Dry air depletes this, leading to Lung Dryness unless the food and fluids we consume replace them.

There are various ways we can weaken the therapeutic effect of what we meet. (If you’re interested, read more about this under Spleen and Stomach. Also, read Nutrition.)


Too many Cup cakes weakens Spleen and Blood, contributing to Lung Dryness
Cup cakes

Eating …

  • Over-eating …
  • Under-eating …
  • the wrong foods
  • at irregular times instead of regular meal times
  • too much before sleep
  • in a rush
  • while working
  • when anxious or worried or thinking about work
  • when over-tired
  • while doing something else, like driving or operating machinery


The trouble with dietary-induced syndromes is that you are seldom aware of trouble brewing! You just go on doing your own thing and then one day you get ill, and it’s hard to accept that this might have been due to years of nutritional mistakes.

  • Fortunately, once you change your food habits, improvement can come fast – if you haven’t sunk too deep! Your body has amazing powers of recuperation given the right conditions.


The result is a form of yin deficiency. It starts often with Stomach Yin deficiency, but leads onto Lung dryness. If not corrected, this can proceed to another syndrome, Lung Yin deficiency.

Internal Causes of Lung Dryness

1/ Radiotherapy and X-rays, CT scans, PET scans: treatment with radio-active substances

All these have a heating, drying effect on the body. Their effects aren’t obvious unless the exposure is strong or frequent. I would think that people exposed to nuclear fall-out or waste might get this. So, too, somebody who has had many chest X-rays might get Lung Dryness.

2/ More typical of an internal cause, is Stomach Yin deficiency. There’s too much on that subject to include here so please read our page on the symptoms and causes of Stomach Yin deficiency! If you have Stomach Yin deficiency you will be more susceptible to Lung Dryness.

3/ Previous lung diseases such as TB, whooping cough, bad coughs as a child, a history of frequent debilitating coughs, smoking tobacco, some kinds of influenza and, probably – now – debilitating exposure to Covid-19.

4/ Narrow-chested people are more susceptible to Lung Dryness.

Result – Symptoms of Lung Dryness

First, symptoms of Dryness

  • Dry cough. This is the most common symptom. It doesn’t seem much, and it can occasionally go on for years before someone notices. You often say it’s just a tickle, and suck sweets or sip fluids from time to time. It is more common in older people, but young people get it too. Typically, your cough is dry and irritating, and may be worse between approximately 3am and 5am. This cough is not itself caused by infection but does make you more susceptible to infection and to the ill-effects of cold and wind. (See our page on Wind-Cold.)
  • Thirst, with Mouth and Throat dryness. You might notice this before the cough – just a constant dryness or tickle, better for a little water. Talking irritates the throat.
  • Depending on how much fluid you drink and on how much fruit and vegetables you eat, you may or may not notice this dryness during the day. But at night you may find you wake with very dry eyes, or dry mouth and throat. If you are waking up to pee, you may find the dryness quite uncomfortable. Don’t rush to drink lots of water! First, take a small sip and use it to moisturise the inside of your mouth; another sip to moisturise your throat; then more small sips, each of which you wash round your mouth before swallowing. Only if you feel quite comfortable in  your stomach after this should you drink in any quantity. (Why? Because one of the predisposing syndromes for Lung Dryness is Stomach Yin deficiency, meaning your Stomach is also dry, and short of the mucus-like fluids that protect its walls from Stomach acid. Too much fluid, too fast means it can’t cope.) By the way, waking with this dryness is more likely between 2.30am and 5.30am because this time-period is your Lung ‘time’. For more see Chinese Medicine Clock – Organ Horary Times – Acupuncture Points (
  • Mouth is dry. Almost as if you keep your mouth open all the time, drying out the fluids. Saliva always in short supply. Better for a little water.
  • [Not listed as a major symptom are dry stools: here the Lung Dryness also extends to your Large Intestine, leading to dryness and constipation.]
  • Skin is dry. These days, with so many chemicals in the air and our diets, our skins are often dry, and manufacturers make a fortune out of us with moisturisers and emollients, nutritional supplements and what have you. Since the underlying dryness is in your Lungs, which ‘control’ or ‘manage’ your skin, the skin dryness could be anywhere or everywhere but – my observation – if the dryness is mainly in your upper Lung lobes, then your skin may be drier on your legs at the front just above your ankle and on the skin of your hands and lower arm.
  • Nostrils may be dry. You notice this when they feel sore in dry hot or cold air. If very dry, a little blood may escape (though usually this comes when there is also a form of Heat.)


Dried leaves on stem - symbol for Lung Dryness
Dried leaves – Photo by Antonio Grosz on Unsplash

Then, consequences of dryness

  • Thirst: always a little thirsty. Not usually for huge amounts of water, but over a day you may get through quite a bit. Because, these days, it is ‘normal’ to carry water in a bottle and to be seen drinking it regularly, you may not even accept that you have Lung Dryness, because – you think – everyone you know drinks as much fluid as you. Well, no: they probably don’t unless they exercise very hard (or are a bit manic).
  • Voice is hoarse. Some people like a slightly hoarse voice – it can sound attractive. Smokers, who often get Lung Dryness, don’t notice – they like a drink to wet the throat. But Lung Dryness makes it hard to talk for long, to lecture, for example. Your voice is affected by throat dryness, see above, and you cough if you have to speak for long or too loudly. Or you find yourself having to clear your throat before speaking, not because of increased phlegm but because throat fluids are thicker – ‘dried-out’ by the Lung dryness. Lung Dryness will also weaken your voice, making it more of an effort to talk for long.
  • Tongue: also dry. If the tongue is also red, that suggests Lung Heat  but if very red without coating, looking almost ‘peeled’ it means Lung Yin deficiency which is worse.
  • Pulse: an acupuncturist would probably notice that your Lung pulse was ’empty’ or ‘weak’. Good treatment would improve this pulse, showing that Lung Dryness was receding.
  • You don’t need ALL these symptoms to be diagnosed as having Lung Dryness.

Treatment for Lung Dryness

There are acupuncture points that help the body produce moisture in the Lungs. They strengthen the yin qualities in the body that support the production of fluids, and help the Stomach produce more Yin. (Click to find more about yin and yang.)

There are Chinese herbal formulae that back this up. But you’ll need to keep taking them for a while.

This syndrome seldom comes or goes overnight. When yin resources are depleted they take time to replace.

For more detail, see below.

Aggravating Factors

  • Heat
  • Dryness
  • Sun exposure in dry conditions
  • Exposure to hot, dry environments
  • Underlying susceptibility to over-heating, such as during the menopause

What happens next if you let Lung Dryness continue?

The next and most likely development is the Lung Dryness becomes Lung Yin deficiency. Look it up by clicking this link.

Western medicine might look for signs of chest sensitivity and dryness leading to pleurisy or pneumonia.

For more detail, see below.

What can YOU do about it?

  • Avoid external environments, hot and dry, that are maintaining causes.
  • Ask why you need so many X-rays!


Nourishing soup - good for Lung Dryness and Yin deficiency
Nourishing soup for Yin deficiency and Lung dryness – Photo by Dipesh Gurav on Unsplash


  • Adjust your dietary habits to support your stomach and digestion to produce more of the Yin fluids you need – mainly this means taking more time over food, both in preparation and in consumption, and living in a more leisurely way. The vegetable soup shown above is full of yin-benefiting foods.
  • Read Nutrition, and for a few weeks several times a week make yourself Clogstoun Congee! Some foods are traditionally observed in Chinese culture to moisten the Lungs and others will tend to increase Lung Heat, which you don’t want as it could worsen the dryness. On our page on Lung Yin, near the bottom of the page (it’s quite a long page) are suggestions for foods that help. How do you know which are heating foods – to be avoided? Read our page on Hot Foods, and avoid foods listed there which are very heating – shown there in bold italics. Even foods listed there shown just in bold may be too heating for some people.
  • Fish oils and Omega-3 oils, (see The best sources of omega-3 | BBC Good Food) plus Vitamin D supplements, probably help your Lungs by reducing inflammation and moisturising their tissues. Reduce foods rich in Omega-6 oils which can be more inflammatory – but you do need some!
  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruit and drink more water than you feel inclined. Probably the simplest way to decide if you’re drinking enough is to observe the colour of your urine. Dark? – drink more. Absolutely clear of colour? Drink less. (This assumes you aren’t taking supplements that darken your urine such as B Vitamins or foods like beetroot.)
  • Just drinking lots of water won’t be enough. You have to change the way your body works, which can take time and good treatment. But adequate fluid intake is important. However, according to Chinese medical theory, drinking too much water can weaken your Kidney energy, leading to other problems. In any case, only drink warm fluids. (By the way, alcohol is heating, which has a drying effect. Sorry.) If only cold fluids are available, sluish the liquid round your mouth a few times, to warm it before swallowing it.
  • You’ll almost certainly desire more sweet food than usual (because the underlying syndrome of Stomach Yin deficiency inclines you to crave a quick fix). Unfortunately, sweet food (meaning candy, sweets, sweeties, toffees, mints, honey, puddings, sweeteners, chocolates etc – anything rich in sugar or sweeteners) will tend to produce mucus that quickly turns to phlegm. Your body likes the mucus because it lenifies dryness, but should this become phlegm, as it easily may, you introduce a huge complicating factor when it comes to treatment.
  • Stop talking or shouting so much! Even singing may be a problem if your condition is far gone.
  • Good sleep, and plenty of it, helps to repair and nourish your Blood. Make sure the room you sleep in is completely dark and there are no sources of noise or other interruptions such as your mobile, cell-phone or TV or other electronic devices that could interfere with your sleep. Your body is made up of electric charges (see ‘You are Electric’ New Scientist 25 Feb 2023 and look up Kirlian photography on the web) and some – perhaps many – people believe that surrounding yourself with electrically active devices at night or during sleep adversely affects how well your body can repair itself.

See an acupuncturist

Don’t expect treatment to cure you overnight. This syndrome takes time to mend, but you should start feeling better quite early on. Many acupuncture points help your body produce more fluids and help it become less yin deficient, and less dry. Such points include Lung 9, Kidney 6 and Spleen 6. But see an experienced acupuncturist who would recognise complicating factors that might need treatment even before dealing with your Lung Dryness.

Chinese herbs

There are herbal formulae or prescriptions, tried and tested for hundreds if not thousands of years, to deal with Lung Dryness and its pre-disposing syndrome Stomach Yin deficiency.

These include mai men dong tang and bai he gu jin wan. These basic formulae would normally be adjusted to your particular needs.

Other syndromes affecting the Lungs include:

Deficiency syndromes:

Full or Excess syndromes:


Interior syndromes of the Lungs


Shared syndromes


Read more about the functions of your Lungs in Chinese medicine

Click to read about acupuncture points along the Lung channel.

Jonathan Brand colours

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2 Responses

  1. Hello Jonathan,

    For someone with Lung dryness, can warm steam inhalation help (alongside acupuncture and diet change)?


    1. If Lung dryness is due to Cold, warm steam inhalation would probably be pleasant and helpful. If from Heat, probably not. If from Lung Yin deficiency, doubtful. If from Qi stagnation, probably yes.

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