Lately, we’ve been seeing a number of patients here at Acupuncture in the Park who have been struggling with lung issues. Beyond seeing lots of patients with seasonal allergies this hay fever season, we’ve also seen people suffering from pneumonia, pleurisy, and even pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs). While acupuncture shouldn’t be considered the first line of care for these serious conditions, it can be a helpful adjunct in the healing process.
Your lungs are an interesting organ system in Chinese medicine in that they are considered the most exterior of your internal organs. Think about it–with each and every breath, your lungs come into contact with the outside world. In addition, any part of your body that has anything to do with breathing is considered to be part of your lung system. This includes your nose, sinuses, bronchi, and diaphragm.
When you seek out acupuncture for a lung problem, your practitioner has a number of things to consider in their diagnosis before they can begin treating you. Among them:
Is this an external or internal problem? External conditions that affect your lungs tend to be superficial and short-lived, including colds, flu, and seasonal allergies. Internal problems affect your lungs at a deeper level and tend to be more difficult to resolve. Such conditions would include pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, emphysema, asthma, and pleurisy.
It this a warm or cold condition? A warm (or hot) lung condition is usually accompanied by a fever, feeling warm, thirst, and thick yellow mucous (I know, gross!), and sometimes constipation. A cool condition generally is not accompanied by a fever, and the mucous, if any, is thin and clear.
Are the symptoms caused by some kind of excess or a depletion? An excess condition is associated with too much of something–heat, water, phlegm, etc., and can be especially challenging if it’s clogging up your lungs. Another sign of an excess condition is a loud, barking cough. A depleted lung pattern means that you’re run down, short of breath, wiped out, or have low immunity–essentially your energy is low. In this case, your cough may be quiet, unproductive, or non-existent.
Is this a Yin condition or a Yang condition? This one is a little more complicated. In your body, Yin is cool, moist and replenishing. In contrast, Yang is warm, dry, and active. In general, a Yin lung pattern is cool and moist (um… phlegmmy) and a Yang pattern is warm and dry. What if it’s warm with lots of phlegm? Then the pattern would be a little of both.
If you come to a practitioner of Chinese medicine, after determining the nature of your lung pattern, they would work with you using acupuncture, herbs, dietary guidelines, and even lifestyle tweaks to help you resolve your condition. And while most of us don’t think about our lungs until we have symptoms, there are actually some things you can do to ensure that your lungs stay healthy. Among them:
-The most obvious way to strengthen your lungs is to use them. That’s right, breathe. Whether through the intentional breathing of a Yoga class, or through singing, public speaking, or simply exercising briskly, activities that open your diaphragm and cause you to breathe harder are good for your lungs.
-Good posture is key to lung health. Stand or sit up tall to enable your lungs to pull in the air it needs that’s so vital to your well-being and to life itself.
-Foods that are good for your lungs are also foods that build up your Qi (energy). Light proteins, such as fish, chicken, or tofu are helpful. White is the color associated with your lung organ system, so foods such as white root vegetables and mushrooms are also good for your lungs. Pungent flavors open up your lungs, so mildly spicy foods such as scallions, basil, ginger, and other strongly flavored herbs can be nourishing.
-If you tend towards dryness in your lungs, white fruits such as apples and pears are cool and moistening. In contrast, if you tend to have problems with phlegm, avoid foods that make it worse, such as dairy products, rich or greasy foods, and foods that have been overly processed.
-Get and use a Neti pot, especially if you suffer from seasonal allergies. It’s a great way to cleanse your sinuses and wash out any offending pollen. You can find Neti pots at just about any drug store, and include directions for use. Remember, your nose and sinuses are considered part of your lung organ system, and keeping them healthy is the same as keeping your lungs healthy.