Sense Organs

Sense Organs in Chinese Medicine

essential oils for acupressureIn Traditional Chinese Medical Theory there are five major Yin Energetic Organ Systems that covet many functions and associations in the body. Each of the five main Yin Organs is associated with at least sense organ:

As such, a disorder of a sense organ would be an indication, or symptom, of an imbalance of the energetic organ system that it is related to.

herb leaves


Chinese medicine is unique in its ability to categorize bodily functions and how they relate to disharmony or disease in the body. The idea of the five sense organs in Western medicine is pretty straight forward; however, Chinese medical theoretical associations are much more complex. Sense organs are assigned to the energetic organ systems of Chinese medicine but their functional attributes may include overlapping organ systems of Chinese medicine.

For the novice these details bring in complications in evaluating specific conditions; for the Chinese medical practitioners, the differences in symptomology is an invaluable tool when determining specific causes of diseases. Two separate individuals may be diagnosed with one disease, such as arthritis, but in Chinese medicine arthritis can have many underlying causes. A practitioner acts as a sleuth taking in to consideration all of the clues indicated by symptoms and patterns of imbalance to find a clear diagnosis. 

Tongue (Sense of Tasting)

The organ for the sense of taste is the tongue. In Chinese medicine one could have a craving for a certain taste, or detest a certain taste; in either case it corresponds to a Element of the Five Element theory of Chinese medicine and suggests an imbalance in the related organs.

The tongue has various receptors which can detect whether the item consumed:

  • Salty corresponds with Water Element (Kidneys)
  • Sweet corresponds with the Earth Element (Spleen)
  • Bitter corresponds with the Fire Element (Heart)
  • Sour corresponds with the Wood Element (Gallbladder-Liver)
  • Spicy or pungent corresponds with the Metal Element (Lungs)

The tongue itself is most closely associated with the Heart and burning, stiffness, or pain of the tongue would point towards an imbalance of the Heart energetic organ system. The whole mouth itself is related to the Earth Element and issues with the mouth and tongue can overlap with these two Elements.

Eyes (Sense of Sight)

The eyes are related to the Wood Element and most specifically the Liver energetic organ system. 

  • Dry eyes indicate Liver Yin Deficiency
  • Floaters in eyes indicate Liver Blood Deficiency
  • Red, burning eyes indicate Liver Fire

In Chinese medicine, the correlation extends to insight and vision for the future.

Nose (Sense of Smell)

The organ for the sense of smell is the nose which is associated with the Metal Element and Lung energetic organ system. The olfactory system of the nose is responsible for our sense of smell and the nose is also an organ which helps us in the sense of taste. Those who lose the sense of smell and/or taste have an imbalance in the Metal Element according to Chinese medical theory.

Additionally, well-trained Chinese medical practitioners can detect a person's smell; this is not body odor, but a constitutional odor.

  • Putrid (rotten) corresponds with Water Element (Kidneys)
  • Fragrant corresponds with the Earth Element (Spleen)
  • Scorched corresponds with the Fire Element (Heart)
  • Rancid (cheese) corresponds with the Wood Element (Gallbladder-Liver)
  • Rank (fish) corresponds with the Metal Element (Lungs)

Skin (Sense of Touch)

The organ for the sense of touch is skin which corresponds with the Metal Element of Chinese medicine. It also corresponds with the Wei Qi which circulates at the level of the skin and helps to bolster our Defensive Qi. The skin itself can reflect imbalances throughout all of the organ system such as red rashes indicating Internal Wind from Liver Heat, or a pallid color from Blood Deficiency due to Spleen Qi Deficiency, or a purple tinge due to Blood Stagnation arising from Heart Qi Stagnation.

Ears (Sense of Hearing)

The organ for the sense of hearing is ears which is most closely related to the Water Element and Kidney energetic organ system.

herb leaves


This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.