Internal vs External Dampness

In fact, pathogenic dampness can appear either in the internal or external form. As the name suggests, external dampness is related to the seasonal climate and the environment. It is mostly caused by a humid climate, exposure to the rain, working near the water, or living in humid places for a prolonged period of time. Meanwhile, internal dampness is mostly a pathological state caused by dysfunctioning of the spleen and stomach as well as stagnation of moisture in the body. In the course of diseases, both external and internal dampness affect each other. In general, external dampness causes diseases of the skin meridian, whereas internal dampness can easily lead to diseases of the internal organs. For example, when external dampness affects the muscle surface, patients may suffer from symptoms such as chills and fever, heaviness of head and body, drowsiness and fatigue, chest tightness, and decreased thirst sensation. In case the pathogenic dampness involves the meridians, the patients may also suffer from joint pain, heaviness, or swelling. In fact, internal dampness is mostly caused by the dysfunctioning of spleen, which gave chance for dampness to hinder the circulation of qi in the body. If internal dampness affects the upper part of the body, patients may experience symptoms such as chest tightness, nausea, flat taste in the mouth, loss of taste, reluctance to eat, thirsty but unwillingness to drink, etc. For patients with internal dampness that affects the spleen and stomach, they may experience abdominal discomfort, indigestion, heaviness of the limbs, oliguria (decrease in urine production), etc. If the internal dampness affects the lower part of the body, patients may have swollen feet, vaginal discharge (for women), oliguria, loose stool, etc.

Features of Pathogenic Dampness

TCM practitioners generally believe that dampness is an evil of Yin, which can easily damage Yang Qi (positive energy) and hinder the circulation of Qi. As the spleen and stomach are the major organs that metabolize water in the body, and pathogenic dampness often invades these two organs first. Therefore, dampness can easily lead to dysfunctioning of the spleen and stomach, leading to abdominal distension and loss of appetite. Secondly, TCM practitioners also believe that "dampness is heavy and turbid". People with illnesses caused by dampness often suffer from dizziness, feel heavy all over the body, or soreness and heaviness of the limbs. When serious dampness happens, there will be turbid secretion such as increased secretion of the eyes, ears, mouth, loose stools with mucus, excessive vaginal discharge in women, and eczema. In addition, since dampness will increase discharge and secretions, with the characteristics of stickiness, stagnation and unpleasant feeling, TCM practitioners also believe that "dampness is presented as viscous and stagnant". Moreover, as diseases caused by pathogenic dampness often linger and are difficult to heal (e.g. eczema and rheumatoid arthritis), the duration of the disease is longer. Furthermore, as pathogenic dampness is more likely to invade the lower part of the body, oedema in the lower limbs is more common. Likewise, it is not uncommon for patients to experience difficulties in urination, increased vaginal discharge (for women), and diarrhoea.

How to Effectively Dispel Dampness?

The TCM theory believes that people with serious dampness are mostly characterized by obesity, bulging abdomen, and sticky feeling in the mouth. Such patients generally have poor metabolism and weak physiological functions. The principle of promoting health is to invigorate the spleen and dispel dampness as well as reduce turbidity and resolve phlegm. Meanwhile, it is also important to look after the lungs, kidneys, and circulation. To stay away from pathogenic dampness, people should strengthen their overall metabolic rate, lose weight, quit smoking and alcohol, expose more under the sun, and wear breathable and sweat-absorbing clothing. It is also very important to exercise regularly. For exercise can invigorate the spirit, and part of the body's moisture can also be discharged through sweating. In fact, as long as the duration is long enough, even low-intensity exercises, such as strolling, jogging, ball games, swimming, martial arts, dancing, aerobics, yoga, etc., can help to improve blood circulation and dispel dampness. In addition, people who have sweated profusely after exercising should not immediately enter places with strong air-conditioning, stand in front of electric fans, or take shower, for the moisture in the body will not be discharged and will instead accumulate on the body surface, causing skin discomfort such as eczema. Also, be careful not to stay in humid environments for too long. Moderate cupping, moxibustion, wormwood patches, etc. can help warm the yang and dispel coldness and dampness from the body. Click here to know more about Traditional Chinese Medicine Dampness Dispelling Treatment. 

People with serious dampness should be extra careful with their diet and avoid certain kinds of food. In general, always maintain a light diet, avoid overeating, eat less sweet and greasy food and fried food. Meanwhile, nourishing and sweet and sour food should also be consumed in moderation. As people with phlegm and dampness often have spleen and stomach problems, they should choose more spleen-tonifying and dampness dispelling foods, including celery, cabbage, white radish, winter melon, cucumber, loofah, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, seaweed, kelp, clams, jellyfish, onions, spring onions and garlic, loquats, ginkgo, olives, jujube, lentil, barley, rice bean, broad bean, mung bean, peanuts, lotus leaves, poria, gorgon, yam, carrot, lotus seeds, etc. When choosing dietary supplements for conditioning the body, the principle should focus on nourishing the spleen and kidney, resolving phlegm and reducing turbidity, and promoting qi and blood circulation.

Last Updated: July 2020
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