Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks

Updated October 2, 2003








Sinus Congestion and Hoarseness (There’s the spleen… and then there’s the SPLEEN)
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is an author of international renown and public speaker. He is currently writing his book Chinese Medicine: A Practical Guide to Optimal Healing. Brian practices acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in sunny San Diego, California.

I had my spleen removed because of Hodgkins Disease. What should I use for stuffy sinus and constant hoarseness?


In my opinion, you shouldn't "use" anything, but go see a Chinese medicine (CM) practitioner (acupuncturist/herbalist) for the appropriate herbs for your condition, which I cannot diagnose over the internet. I wonder if you are hoarse because of over the counter decongestants?


I went to the Doctor because I was hoarse. With the sinus drainage and him thinking that it could be stomach acid, I did try things like Nexium and Nasonex spray, without any luck. In reading some of your website I thought that I read something about a sinus and spleen connection. I think it was something about wet or dry spleen that herbs could help. If you don't have a spleen, it seems that you would be prone to constant sinus problems, which I think I have. It seems like I always have some mucous at the back of my throat.

Any ideas? I would appreciate any info you can offer. I will try to locate a Chinese medicine practitioner.


The Spleen in Western and Chinese Medicine

Well, first please note that the Spleen of CM is different than the anatomical spleen of western medicine. The western spleen organ is mostly involved with blood, whereas the Chinese medicine Spleen organ-system is about digestion, assimilation, getting energy to the four limbs. In western terms, Spleen qi is probably something like enzymes (though not limited to that), which work with the stomach acid (part of the Stomach qi or yang) to digest the food.

Causes of Sinus Congestion

There is a connection with the sinuses: In CM, Spleen deficiency leads to dampness and phlegm (this is probably the "wet spleen" you were trying to remember), which can show up in sinus congestion. The Spleen is said to "raise the clear yang and descend the turbid yin." But there are other causes and factors in sinus congestion: inflammation (heat), stress, qi stagnation, and Liver/Gallbladder damp-heat.

Treat the Causes and the Symptoms

To treat it well, you need not only a sinus draining formula like Cang Er Zi Tang (CEZT) as the basis, but also herbs that address the root and related patterns. Only taking CEZT would not fix the cause of the problem, so by itself it would be only a temporary fix. We would add all or parts of formulas like:

  • Liu Jun Zi Tang for Spleen deficient dampness
  • Er Chen Tang for phlegm
  • Long Dan Xie Gan Tang for Liver Gallbladder damp-heat
  • Shu Kan Wan or Xiao Yao San for Liver qi stagnation.
  • Huang Lian Wen Dan Tang for phlegm and Stomach heat

But you can't take them all! And, taking the wrong ones could make you worse. So, get thee to an herbalist - that is, an acupuncturist who knows their herbs. We have an acupuncturist-finding resource which also has some tips for evaluating several acupuncturists before deciding which one to see.

For more on sinus problems, read these three articles:

Hoarseness and the Lung-system

In Chinese medicine, we generally attribute hoarseness and loss of voice to dryness. The Lung-system, which includes the throat, is said to "hate dryness." The Lung likes to be moist - so the Lung yin is very important, and dryness is the enemy.

In fact, the autumn season (when this question was asked and article was written), is associated with both the Lung and with dryness. So this would be the time of the year that the most people would get hoarse.

There are good herbs for this- e.g. the formula Ophiopogonis Plus (O+)from Far East Summit. But again, the complexity of the whole condition may make just one formula problematic - this one increase Lung yin, and if you also have sinus congestion, it might even worsen that. So, you'd need some combination like CEZT and O+.

A simple kitchen remedy for Lung dryness would be to drink some pear juice.


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All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

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