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The Physiology of Wildfire Smoke (in NYC)


While the sepia tones and brush aromas from this week’s Canadian wildfires’ spillover to the northeast might have looked great in a photograph, or smelled enticing in 1% of its dosage (if seated by a campfire with marshmallows), on the ground in real life it was daunting, and for many systemically disruptive. Personally, I was outdoors plenty, both on my commute and on my break at Union Square farmer’s market, albeit with a mask on, and thankfully did not experience symptoms.

Chinese Medicine nicknamed the lungs “the delicate organ,” which really they are not—in fact quite the opposite—however what is meant by this is their being most and primarily vulnerable to external pathogens. Toxic fumes are an external pathogen. They dry the sinuses and respiratory microbiome, which can bring with it symptoms such as chest oppression, frontal (or maybe temporal) headaches, and of course, dryness. Or as my wife and I learned, if you are a 2-year-old trapped indoors as a result, rabid, recurring cases of cabin fever.

The formula everyone needed at least one day of at home this week was “Xiao Chai Hu Tang,” or “Minor Buplureum (root) Decoction.” It includes buplureum root to clear heat from the upper body by increasing circulation downwards; pinellia root to dissolve accumulation in the chest and sinuses; scutellaria root to clear heat specifically from the lungs; ginseng to generate healthy fluids in the stomach to protect it from the bitter nature of the other herbs; ginger to warm the stomach for a similar reason; and finally licorice and red dates to generate healthy fluids in the stomach, chest, and central nervous system.

It’s no wonder this is one of the most commonly prescribed herbal formulas in Chinese Medicine. Nevertheless, it should almost always be modified according to the individual; especially those with low energy, low appetites, and/or aversions to cold weather. Typically, these were the body types I saw most impacted by the air pollution this week. Frontal headaches, dryness in the throat, and chest oppression, as a result of the external toxicity exacerbating their pre-existing internal toxicities as a result of metabolic dysharmony. Not to worry, as my father always said. There’s hope.

If any symptoms are lingering and you are not presently coming for acupuncture or taking herbs I would recommend any or all of the following:

  • Hot mint tea, maybe with honey, to open the chest, cool, and lubricate the sinuses
  • Asian pears, or fresh pear juice, also to lubricate the lungs and sinuses.
  • Rice congee with chopped up pears, red dates, some honey and cinnamon—YUM—to generate healthy fluids in the respiratory and gastrointestinal microbiomes.
  • Gentle exercise, such as qi gong, yoga, or deep breathing. NOT… outdoor running, for the love of God.
  • If nothing else, just stay hydrated, preferably with room temperature or hot water. Cold drinks constrict blood vessels, which obviously then traps local inflammation.

These are great treatments to treat only the branch of the problem, as its root cause is of course Republicans.

This article was posted in Acupuncture, covid-19, Herbal Medicine, Migraines & Headaches, Spring, Traditional Chinese Medicine. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are closed.
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