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Breathe Easy

By NATURA Magazine.

When a young asthmatic sought help for her worsening symptoms due to air pollution, she was surprised that the treatment involved her spleen in addition to her lungs.

For most of her life, 12-year-old Mary (not her real name) has been coping with severe asthma. That’s why when Singapore was shrouded in a thick haze in June this year, Mary’s asthma acted up. Her breathing became strained, she started to cough more often and, strangely, she began to lose her appetite.

To deal with the condition, Mary, along with her parents, paid a visit to Physician Wisly Liana at the Eu Yan Sang Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic at Woodlands. The first things that Physician Liana looked at were Mary’s cough and the colour of her phlegm. Along with other symptoms, Physician Liana deduced that the condition was more serious than the common flu. “At that time, Mary was experiencing a loss of appetite, difficulty in passing motion and, according to her parents, she had yellowish urine.”

Furthermore, going to the bathroom was a chore for Mary, as she regularly experienced severe constipation. When stool was passed, it appeared granular and dry.


Based on TCM philosophy, metal is the element associated with the lung system, while earth is the element associated with the spleen system.

In Mary’s case, Physician Liana decided to treat her young patient in both systems simultaneously. The medications she prescribed for Mary’s first visit were to get rid of heatiness in the body and to curb the collection of phlegm in her lungs, as well as to promote better digestion and bowel movement. The TCM herbs prescribed include figwort root, stemona root, hogfennel root, cynanchum root, licorice root, tangerine peel, and chicken gizzard skin.

“During Mary’s second visit, I saw some improvements in her condition. She was coughing less and there was less phlegm. However, her appetite continued to remain low, and her stool continued to be on the dry side. From there, I figured that it is due to her hot body constitution,” explains Physician Liana. Based on the above diagnosis, Physician Liana added rhubarb, scutellaria root, millet sprout, gizzard skin and radish seed to her prescriptions.

Then, on Mary’s third visit, everything changed. She returned with no signs of coughing and difficulties in the bathroom. Even though her appetite had yet to fully return, Mary’s parents had noticed a gradual improvement. For that, Physician Liana explains that Mary had always been plagued by bad gastrointestinal health, which is why her appetite was taking some time to return.


This year’s haze was markedly worse than before, with the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) hitting a record high of 401 (anything above 100 is ‘unhealthy’).

When the air quality drops, according to Physician Liana, it’s common for people to experience ailments related to the eye, nose and throat. Patients frequently experience excessive coughing, tightness in the chest, as well as shortness of breath. “Also, haze or any other kind of air pollution can easily affect the elderly, infants, as well as people with weak cardiopulmonary function,” adds Physician Liana. “When treating this sort of disease, it is crucial for patients to seek help as early as possible.”

Physician Liana warns against purchasing over-the-counter medications, as they may not be able to deal with the root of the problem.


Aside from TCM, Physician Liana also believes that it is important to watch what you eat when dealing with coughs.

“Stay away from raw, cold foods and chicken,” she warns. “On top of that, fried foods can give rise to dry heat within your body, which can cause the cough to worsen.” Citrus fruits such as oranges induce phlegm, thus patients with severe cough should avoid them. Instead, Physician Liana recommends lighter dishes along with frequent consumption of water.


Physician Liana recommends minimal exercise and to stay indoors as much as possible. When the PSI levels are ‘unhealthy,’ all outdoor activities should be stopped. Even a stroll outdoors, according to the physician, should be accompanied by a proper mask. Make sure to wash your face, rinse your mouth and clear your nose frequently after coming in from outside. Physician Liana warns that pollutants, especially PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter), can be harmful to humans after prolonged exposure. For patients who are already suffering from haze-related ailments, Physician Liana recommends acupuncture as an effective form of treatment.



Here are three different tea brews to nourish your lungs:

Cooling Herbal Tea

Ingredients: 30g of white fungus, 2-3 Chinese pears, 200g of water chestnut

Directions: After soaking the white fungus in water, make sure that it has turned soft before cleaning it thoroughly. Remove the skin and core of the Chinese pear, then dice it. Add water to the water chestnut, then boil for 20–60 minutes, serve.


The Bean Tea

Ingredients: 50–100g of red beans, green beans, black beans, soy beans and hyacinth beans

Directions: Soak the beans in cold water for an hour or overnight. Add water, boil and serve.


Herba Houttuyniae Tea

Ingredients: 15–30g of herba houttuyniae

Directions: Clean the herba houttuyniae thoroughly, then soak in water for 20 minutes. Boil in water for 10 minutes, serve.



The health of your lungs and intestines can easily go off-balance. Here are a few dishes that will restore that equilibrium.



  • bitter gourd + salted egg
  • turnip + spare ribs
  • luffa + winter melon + lean meat
  • corn + carrot + cucumber
  • winter melon + hyacinth bean + coix barley + lean meat


  • bamboo shoot + Imperata root + water chestnut
  • fig + apple + Solomon’s Seal tea
  • honeysuckle + chrysanthemum + kapok + frangipani + sophora flower tea (suitable for patients experiencing a loss of appetite or irregular bowel movements)

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.6


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