What is Wind and Why Does it Matter?
Wind is a term used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dermatology that describes the modern medical term, pruritis or itch. It’s called Wind because thousands of years ago before medical terminology existed, the Chinese looked to nature to describe what they observed to happen in the body. At that time, the concept of itch was best described by what they saw in wind: it arose quickly, changed rapidly, moved swiftly and blew intermittently. As such, it’s no surprise that one of the first TCM records of eczema called it “Wind of the Four Crooks” describing the itchiness that started in the elbow and knee pits.
The Chinese continued to observe that wind was influenced by different climatic factors such as heat, humidity, and dryness. Because they believed that man reflects the universe, a microcosm within the macrocosm, they decided that the same climatic energies that are outside the body were also found inside the body. This was noted as early as 200-400BC in the The Huang Di Nei Jing, the oldest doctrinal source of TCM.
How Climatic Factors Affect Wind
The Chinese realized that wind could be influenced or even, generated by each climatic energy and each type created a different type of itch. In addition to climatic factors, they identified food, alcohol, parasites and toxic sources that also promoted their own different types of itch. In total, the Chinese identified eleven types of itch. Here are three examples of how differently itch can present:
- Heat Itch is always accompanied by a burning, hot, prickling sensation with red macules or papules. Its telltale sign is that it grows worse as the day moves into the night making sleep hours incredibly uncomfortable.
- Damp Itch tends to settle in the lower body. In this type, the skin feels moist upon scratching and excoriation marks tend to look crusted. It is typically worse during humid seasons.
- Deficiency Itch feels like insects are crawling below the surface. The itching is worse at night, worse during drier seasons, subject to sudden changes in temperature and often accompanied with fissures, lichenification and/or fine scaling.
Why Should Wind Matter to You?
Currently, the western biomedical world is not very clear about what causes itch. A 2017 study was published in the Canadian Family Physician called the “Diagnosis and Treatment of Pruritis” which examined all trials and studies to date in Medline and PubMed including the words itch or pruritus. The conclusion was “a good body of evidence from high-quality trials does not exist for the treatment of pruritus, and the treatments that do exist are inconsistent in their success.”
Contrast that with TCM which not only breaks down itch into 11 different types but also offers a system that provides: 1) insight into the source of itch and 2) informs what is needed from herbal ingredients to treat each form of itch.
How Does Understanding Wind Impact Treatment?
Currently, there are over 31 herbs just for treating superficial levels of wind and many more when focusing on deeper levels. You may wonder why we need so many options? Why not just 11 herbs for 11 types of itch? Well, because every single herb provides a different package of biochemical constituents that can address, in this case, not just itch but a host of other issues such as associated edema, pain, inflammation, infection, etc.
Also, some herbs can provide directional orientations. For example, some herbs work best in the upper body vs the lower body. And lastly, some herbs can guide other herbs to specific body parts like the hands or head.
Therefore, all these herbal options allow us to customize the herbal formula to match each patient’s specific wind type and their accompanying symptoms. This makes TCM solutions more focused in treating itch.
Wind is a very important concept to understand in TCM dermatology. Patients who know some of the nuances of wind can then understand how TCM and an experienced TCM dermatology practitioner is best suited to get rid of their itch, once and for all.
Amethyst treats people all over the contiguous United States via video conferencing or in office appointments. If you have questions about your eczema condition, feel free to set-up a Complimentary Consultation.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, MSOM, RCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats eczema patients throughout the US in person and via video conferencing using only Chinese herbal medicine. Outside of the office, Olivia serves as the Vice President of the Illinois Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and is also one of two Illinois delegates to the American Society of Acupuncturists.