Treating Cough with TCM

Many people find themselves with a cough during the winter season. Coughs are the most common reason for individuals to seek their physicians in the U.S. Chinese medicine can offer very effective treatment options.

Cause of Cough
In Chinese medicine, the lung is known as the “delicate organ” because it is sensitive to wind, cold, heat dryness and/or dampness. When these external influences invade the body and damage the flow of qi, the lung’s ability to remove carbon dioxide is hindered; this can result in a cough. Other reasons for a cough to arise according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) include: a) the lung being too weak to descend qi due to deficiency of qi or yin OR b) a blockage of qi due to phlegm or dampness accumulation, heat or stagnant qi.

A sedentary lifestyle and/or excessive grief or sadness can damage lung qi. Weak lung qi makes the body vulnerable to external invasions. Also, deficiency in the spleen can affect lung qi. These deficiencies arise with excessive worrying, stress and poor diet. The over-consumption of cold, raw foods, sugar, dairy and greasy foods disrupt the proper function of the spleen, producing excess phlegm which gets stored in the lungs, and thus producing a cough.

Prevention is the best policy, as they always say. Here are some ways to avoid catching a cold or cough:

Stay Warm
Breathe through your nose. This helps to warm and “filter” the air.
Wear warm layers around your neck, legs and lower back. Protect your kidneys and avoid wind exposure.
Get lots of sleep and slow down. Your body needs time to replenish it’s qi.
Exercise moderately and regularly.
Eat with the season. As the weather gets colder, eat warmer foods.
Minimize the consumption of dairy, alcohol, sugar, wheat and fried foods. Mucus-producing food is a major contributor to developing stuffy noses, coughs, etc.

If it’s too late and the cough has already set in, follow these guidelines to speed up your recovery.

Rest – This may be the most important thing you can do. Sleep helps fight off infection and allows your body to heal itself.
Drink lots of fluids – Keep fluids flowing through your body to prevent stagnation due to deficiency or dehydration. Fluids are also needed to flush out the toxins invading your body.
Nutrition – Congee and warm chicken noodle soup can help your body replenish it’s fluids and restore nutrients needed to fight off infection.
Herbs, Acupuncture, Cupping and/or Gua Sha – Many TCM methods can be extremely effective. Especially when a cough is made worse and becomes continuous and persistent, have your acupuncture practitioner assess what herbs may be right for you.


Schmalzriedt, Jake. “Treating Cough with Chinese Herbs”. Golden Flower; Chinese Herbs. Autumn 2015: 1-2. Print.

“Treat Colds, Flus and Coughc with TCM: A ridiculously well-kept secret.” Pauline Sok Yin Huang: Care for Caregivers and Changemakers. The Twelve Eleven Theme. Web. 20 November 2015.

Presson, Connie. Personal Interview. 13 November 2015.

Steve, PB (n.d.). [Cough Medicine]. Retrieved December 12, 2015, from