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"You Felt WHAT in my Pulse?"
Pulse & Tongue, Sinus Infections & Antibiotics, Pregnancy & Phlegm - Part II

By Brian Benjamin Carter,MSci, LAc Brian, founder of, is the author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.

This is Part II of the Q&A (see part I for the question)- Here is the list of all three parts:

  1. How we use the Pulse and Tongue for diagnosis
  2. Antibiotics and Sinus Infections
  3. Phlegm and Pregnancy

Modern Living, Complex Health Problems
In our post-modern industrial polluted stress-filled bad-diet culture, no one's health is simple. We are plagued by complex long-term illnesses like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, AIDS, even sinus problems... it may seem weird to you that I include sinus infections, but the root causes of sinus trouble can be quite complicated... Especially if they are long-term.

Antibiotic Overuse Problems
I hate to say it (because antibiotics are so great in some situations, and so popular overall), but antibiotics complicate things even more - there are conditions that do not respond to them... and there are many situations in which they are not even indicated.

Physicians have over-prescribed antibiotics for years... they know it, there have been studies that show it, and as a profession they've moved away from that. But people still want to leave the doctor's office with a prescription, a magic-bullet. Of course, sometimes the issue is which antibiotic is the most appropriate one. They don't all work for everything. (Also read about Colds and Flu's II: Antibiotics, Herbs, and Oriental Medicine Concepts of Immunity)

In this article...
Antibiotic Side Effects - When They're Wrong
If the sinusitis hasn't responded to antibiotics, then either the wrong ones were prescribed, or you need to try another kind of treatment. Chinese Herbal Medicine can address the full spectrum of complaints and causes; we often treat the conditions which are not responding to

conventional treatments like antibiotics. A woman wrote me about how antibiotics weren't solving her diarrhea problem- this can happen when the disease is cold in nature. Antibiotics are cold and bitter; these qualities help it fight the dampness and heat of bacterial infections. But they are more of the same damage when the disease is cold or deficient in nature. Acupuncture and moxibustion (the warming of acupuncture points) can also be effective; some people respond very quickly... results vary depending upon a number of factors (the acupuncturist's education, accuracy of diagnosis, frequency of treatment, and patient compliance with diet and lifestyle suggestions).

Cold and Deficient
If the mucus is clear or white, then it is more likely cold in nature. That fits with a Spleen-system deficiency and dampness. That would fit with the pulse she felt. You would have lowered appetite, feel fatigued, have loose stool, and possibly feel cold easily. Antibiotics wouldn't help here, and could even make things worse.

Sinus Infection Symptoms
The classic acute sinusitis symptoms are nasal congestion, green nasal phlegm, facial/dental pain, eye pain, headache, and a cough at night. Some patients also complain of fever, feeling ill, bad breath and a sore throat. Chronic sinusitis is more difficult to diagnose. You can have the same symptoms above in a milder form. Chronic means long-term; it's not usually thought of as chronic unless it's been going on for 2 months or more.

Sinus Infection Causes
Sinus problems can be caused by many things- you have to think about environmental and food allergies (allergic sinusitis), chronic sinus infection, and chronic colds. Without more information, it's hard to be specific. Sinusitis often develops after colds, and can become a chronic problem. The sinuses are very small... one of our weak points, especially for people with weakened immune systems or in the presence of irritants (once again, pollution, allergens, etc.)... she probably asked about the farms and pesticides while she was thinking about the cause of your chronic sinusitis. For more, see this article: Sinus Infection Symptom

Mold, Fungus, and Sick Buildings
And we can't forget about mold! While some people appear to be more sensitive than others, fungus can cause fungal sinusitis. This gets into the whole 'sick-building' topic... Mold can grow in the walls of houses and offices, and is not always easy to detect.

Decongestant Side Effects
Decongestants are often prescribed. They work by drying you out. Unfortunately, they don't just dry the mucus. Long-term use of decongestants can lead to other problems, like the dry or heat types of sinus inflammation (for more on this, read Sinus Congestion & Hoarseness).

This is why, in Chinese Medicine, we always balance an herb with other herbs- if we are drying the phlegm, we also moisten at the same time. Moisture helps the sinuses drain- you remember that Crocodile-Dundee-put-your-head-under-the-steaming-pot-thing? Likewise, there are chinese herbs whose function it is to moisten and transform phlegm.

Serious Causes of Sinusitis, and Serious Solutions
For those with chronic sinusitis, tests need to be done to rule out the serious things. Sinusitis can be just a simple end-of-your-cold complication, but it can also show up as part of: nasal tumors, fungal infections, and HIV or other immunodeficiency. What about the sinusitis surgery? It works from 50-93% of the time... so it can be a great help if you're sick and tired of it, and nothing else has worked. but it's also a super-painful process! I would see an herbalist first.

For more, go to the next part, "Phlegm and Pregnancy."

Phlegm, Anyone?
Finally, "flem." I'm sure she meant "Phlegm." I'm not sure what people think of when they hear this word- I think of an old smoker coughing some up. And that is one kind of phlegm. But there are others- CM has a broader idea of phlegm... from the coughing-up kind (and the kind that's too dry to cough up) to "phlegm misting the sensory orifices," a severe state of mental cloudiness that can result in seizures and coma. But relax, she's not talking about that! Phlegm as it relates to sinuses is a condensed form of dampness. Dampness is any kind of fluid build-up that is not healthy... whether it's edema, pus, or nasal mucus. I know, it's gross. But you used to it. We medical professionals can talk about phlegm over dinner... no problem!

But how in the world could phlegm and pregnancy be related?
It's possible that she was saying that your pulses showed you were either pregnant, or had lots of phlegm. She was probably feeling that "slippery" quality. It's possible that the dampness or phlegm could be in the Lung-system (of which the sinuses are a part). In that case, you would have some extra mucus... the color of the mucus would depend on whether there is heat (often an infection) or not... and so would whether or not you could get the mucus out, and how much came out. Sometimes there is so much heat that the dampness or phlegm gets burned up... then what little would come out would be yellow (green if there is a severe infection).

Of course, no one's health is simple. It's hard for me to say from a distance with little information. It's also hard for many practitioners to have the right diagnosis the first time without spending a good hour or two examining the symptoms and signs. Once they get on track with your diagnosis and find herbs that fit your patterns, you'll begin to see progress. If you feel confident with that practitioner (you may want to ask her about her education, etc. - see this link for ideas about what to ask), then trying her out for 4-8 treatments would be the way to get started.


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