Q. I am a 46-year-old woman with a healthy BMI. I jog for about half an hour two or three times a week.
For years, my body, especially my hands, are icy cold during my jogs.
After jogging (either in the gym or outdoors), I frequently have red, itchy patches on the front and back of my body, except my limbs. This is despite my wearing sports attire made of quick-dry material.
A few months ago, I started swimming frequently. While swimming, I tend to have lots of phlegm, although I am well. I have to stop every few laps to clear my nose and throat. I did not have such a problem previously.
Are these problems normal?
A. You are likely suffering from miliaria. It is also known as sweat rash, heat rash and prickly heat.
Miliaria is a skin disease marked by small and itchy rashes and is a common ailment in hot and humid environments. Symptoms are usually superficial tiny blisters, which may be intensely itchy or prickly.
It can lead to complications, such as heat exhaustion, which can cause low blood pressure, nausea, headaches and a rapid pulse.
Untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition.
Another potential complication is a bacterial infection, in which you will have inflamed and itchy pustules.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), miliaria is likely due to weaknesses in the lungs and spleen, as well as pathogenic factors such as wind, cold, heat and dampness.
WEAK LUNGS AND SPLEEN
In TCM, the condition of the skin is a reflection of the lungs' health. They are nourished by qi (vital energy), blood, yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) and body fluids. These factors travel through the body's meridians or channels.
The lungs protect the body against external pathogenic factors. Any malfunction in these organs will be reflected in the person's skin, which may become itchy and dry.
Wind, cold, heat and dampness are the main pathogens in miliaria.
When the weather is hot and humid, these pathogenic factors can attack the skin and block the pores, or trigger red rashes which appear in patches, accompanied by a burning sensation.
A combination of wind and heat, for instance, brings about red, itchy spots. Wind and cold aggravate itches with pain, while heat and dampness lead to prickly itches with blisters.
Meanwhile, the spleen dominates the muscles and limbs. Normal movement of one's legs and arms are closely related to spleen qi.
When there is sufficient spleen qi, the yang (the element responsible for heating organs) qi distributes ample nutrients to all parts of the body.
This means the muscles would be well-nourished, so that all four limbs are strong and able to move freely.
But the spleen can be weakened by ageing, smoking, an unbalanced diet and an excessive consumption of spicy, oily or cold food.
A weak spleen will be unable to transport yang qi properly. The malnourished body parts and limbs therefore become cold.
The body also consumes more yang qi and nutrients during exercise, which may explain why your hands turn icy cold.
The spleen converts the nutrients into qi and blood. However, when the spleen is weak, it converts the nutrients into phlegm and dampness instead.
The phlegm is stored in the lungs and could be cleared out from the mouth and nose. Phlegm which has accumulated in the body over a prolonged period creates heat.
A build-up of phlegm and heat in the skin can slow down the flow of qi and blood in the meridians, blocking the sweat ducts and pores.
This may trigger miliaria, accompanied by bright red rashes and a bloated stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. Exercise and sweating creates internal heat and dampness, which aggravate the problem.
DISPEL HEAT AND DAMPNESS
Chinese herbal medicine (oral and topical), acupuncture and cupping therapy (placing heated cups on the skin to enhance blood and qi circulation) can ease your problem.
The honeysuckle flower, baical skullcap root, wild chrysanthemum flower, weeping forsythia capsule and purslane herb are used to dispel wind and heat. This, in turn, reduces the miliaria and inflammation.
The perilla leaf, lightyellow sophora root, belvedere fruit, amur cork-tree, arnebia root, dandelion (left) and borneol are used to relieve itching and eliminate wind, heat and dampness.
Herbs which can boost the spleen are the cablin patchouli herb, fortune eupatorium herb, atractylodes rhizome and grassleaf sweetflag rhizome. They help to reduce the amount of phlegm in the body.
Avoid exercising in hot and humid weather as far as possible. Also, wear light clothing and avoid other strenuous activities which induce sweating.
Do not apply heavy creams or lotions which can clog the sweat ducts. Frequent showers under room-temperature water, coupled with mild soap, can help to prevent miliaria too.
You should avoid exposure to significant temperature changes.
For example, when you are perspiring, pat yourself dry with a towel and cool your body at room temperature. Avoid having the fan or air-conditioner switched on in your direction.
Do not take a cold shower immediately after exercise as the wind and cold could clog your pores. Do light exercises such as swimming, brisk-walking, taiji and yoga instead of vigorous ones such as jogging.
Take small meals and eat food which is easy to digest, such as porridge and fish soup.
Abstain from alcohol, as well as oily, cold or raw food, as these can weaken the spleen. Also, do not take red meat, such as beef and mutton, as they can contribute to heat and dampness in the body.
Sleep early and have sufficient rest. This helps your body produce more qi and blood to nourish your skin.
MS LIM LAY BENG Taditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic at The Adelphi
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