With the rainy Bay Area winter and allergy season upon us I’ve been talking to a lot of patients lately about the idea of Dampness. Although Dampness has some pretty obvious physical manifestations like a runny nose or a phlegmy cough not all Dampness is distinctly tangible.

So what is Dampness in Chinese medicine? Why do people “get” Dampness?

Dampness can occur in our head, face and chest but also can appear in our middle and lower body, most often originating with our digestion. Dampness easily obstructs the flow of qi resulting in a plethora of problems, most commonly appearing as fluid-type congestion or seasonal allergies. Physical symptoms could include a feeling of heaviness, low appetite, nausea, edema, copious or cloudy discharge and sore joints, certain skin conditions, predisposition to stones, yeast infections, loose stools, feeling spaced out, headaches. The list goes on. Dampness affects the Spleen (digestion) and when left untreated can cause a cascade of emotional symptoms that are heavy, burdensome and sticky, like Damp itself. Feelings of worry, jealousy, or holding on to something and fixation can be one symptom. Or feeling foggy and bogged down by repetitive thoughts can also be present. These thoughts, in return, can contribute to Dampness.

Right now, envision dampness. As we picture it, it makes sense. Dampness in the environment feels wet, cold, and saturated. Dampness in the body feels heavy, sore and “boggy.”

Like any imbalance, Dampness finds its way into our body when we have an underlying weakness. For instance, we are prone to allergies in the spring if our immune system is exhausted from struggling with an overall Damp environment from the winter. When the Qi is weak, our systems cannot clear out the cloying, sticky fluids correctly and these fluids eventually build up and become Dampness. Chronic Dampness becomes pathological and needs to be addressed.

There are many lifestyle choices which also contribute to Dampness and this is where we have to think carefully about how we might be exacerbating an already swampy situation.

Diet, for starters, can be the first place to look. The big culprits are refined sugar, dairy and wheat containing products along with processed foods. We can also have weakened digestion which makes us more vulnerable to Damp containing foods as well as raw foods.

Environment also plays an important role. Ever feel worse in rainy weather? Dampness has a way of seeping into our body so sleeping on a cold floor or with a window open could be another factor. If you like to run in the rain or walk your dog along the foggy coast, you may have experienced the Damp aftermath.

Constitution is something we must also consider as many of us have a proclivity for Dampness and must be more diligent about our diet and environment than others. We may have come into the world with a generally Damp constitution making us more prone to allergies, digestive discomforts, skin problems or struggling with weight etc.

As an acupuncturist, one must differentiate between cause and effect and look for the internal and external factors which may lead a person to feel unwell. Of course, if it’s an acute stomach flu, we can treat this as external dampness. But if someone presents with chronic joint pain, the investigation into diet, environment and lifestyle play an important part in healing.

Here’s a few things to think about if you’re wondering if you have some Dampness.

  1. Does your diet contain a lot of Dampening foods?
    Alcohol, dairy, fried, sugary, starchy foods, soy, fruit, (yes, ice cream!)
    Also, do you regularly overeat or eat late night?
  2. Do you work in a damp environment or live in a basement or cold climate? Go running rain or shine?
  3. Do you tend to worry or overthink? Do you work long hours without rest?
  4. Are you feeling stuck or sluggish or spaced out all the time?
  5. Is there any pain in your body that feels fixed in one location, and worse in damp weather?
  6. Do you feel a lump in your throat or clear your throat frequently?
  7. Do you exercise?

Signs of Dampness show up when there’s imbalance. Your body knows how to find it’s way back to center with the right tweak of your diet and a close look at exercise and environment. Visit your acupuncturist to help get you back on track. And remember, if you eat the pizza, don’t worry about it…the worrying contributes to the Dampness!

Angela Coon, L.Ac.

Photo Credit:  “boggy” by dave – https://flic.kr/p/3fxSJg

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