Traditional Chinese Medicine Causes of Illness

Dryness and Summer Heat

Dryness and summer heat, the last of the six pernicious influences in traditional Chinese medicine, both have deleterious effects on the body's moistures. Associated syndromes include constipation, thirst, headaches, and excessive sweating.


Dryness is a yang pernicious influ­ence. It is associated with the autumn season due to the lack of humidity in most areas at that time of year. Its influence on the body is drying and astringent. It can easily deplete the body fluids, causing constipation, dry cough, concentrated urine, dryness in the throat and nose, thirst, and dry skin. Dryness typically enters the body through the nose and mouth, quickly affecting the lungs.

Syndromes of Dryness External Warm Dryness: This syndrome is viewed traditionally as the leftover heat from summer teaming up with the dryness of autumn to attack the body. Symptoms include fever, headache, thirst, dry mouth, dry nose, dry eyes, dry cough with scanty mucus, red tongue, and a rapid pulse. Treatment involves the use of moistening herbs combined with herbs that repel wind. Pears are considered healing foods in conditions of dryness; they are very moistening and are readily available in the autumn season.

External Cool Dryness: Traditionally considered an illness of late autumn, this pattern has symptoms of chills, mild fever, lack of sweating, dry cough, nasal congestion, dry and itchy throat, and a wiry and floating pulse. Treatment is very similar to that for wind cold, with the addition of some moistening herbs.

Internal Dryness: In this chronic condition, the body fluids have been depleted over time. It can be both a result or cause of yin or blood deficiency, and it is more commonly seen in the elderly. In its more acute form, internal dryness can result from the depletion of body fluids due to sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, or bleeding. Prolonged internal or external heat usually has a detrimental long-term effect on body fluids, depleting them.

Typical symptoms of internal dryness are dry, itchy skin, thirst, constipation, and a chronic shortage of body fluids. Treatment depends on the particular organ and vital substance affected by the imbalance. Yin or blood tonics are typically employed along with herbs that assist the body in retaining fluids.

Summer Heat

Summer heat is a yang pernicious influence that typically occurs in the heat and humidity of summer. It is "uprising and spread out," meaning it affects the head, causing thirst, red face, and headache, and it causes a person to lie down with the limbs spread out. The excessive sweating also leads to dark, concentrated urine, and depletion of the body's yin can occur. The extreme heat also affects the heart, leading to restlessness or even coma in severe cases such as heatstroke.

When summer heat combines with dampness due to humidity and overconsumption of sugary drinks, such as soft drinks, the spleen is also affected. This leads to a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Treatment of summer heat is complex, depending on the organs and additional pathogenic factors involved. Usually, herbs are used that clear excess heat from within the body along with herbs that moisten the interior. Two common foods that are very effective in the treatment of this pattern are watermelon (xi gua) and mung beans (lu dou). There is also a point behind the knees associated with clearing heat; holding ice behind the knees helps the body cool down quickly. When digestive disturbances occur due to a combination of dampness and summer heat, cooling herbs are combined with herbs that clear turbid dampness, such as patchouli (huo xiang).

On the next page, you'll learn about the seven emotions in traditional Chinese medicine.

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