What is Dry Cough?

Dry cough, commonly referred to as a nonproductive or hacking cough, is a type of cough where no phlegm or mucus is produced. It's characterized by irritation in the throat and respiratory tract, leading to a persistent and often uncomfortable coughing sensation. Unlike a wet cough, a dry cough does not clear any substances from the respiratory tract and can be particularly bothersome due to its unrelenting nature.

How does TCM view Dry Cough?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perceives dry cough as an imbalance within the body’s energy system. TCM theory suggests that a dry cough results from disruptions in the flow of Qi (vital energy) and Yin (nourishing fluids), often involving the lungs.

According to TCM, treating a dry cough involves more than just addressing the symptom; it requires identifying and correcting the underlying pattern of disharmony causing the cough.

Root Causes of Dry Cough in TCM

In TCM, dry cough is often attributed to a few key patterns. One such pattern is Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire, where excessive heat in the lungs leads to a dry cough, often accompanied by symptoms like fever, thirst, and a sore throat.

Another common cause is Lung Yin Deficiency, characterized by a dry cough with symptoms like a hoarse voice and itchy throat. Identifying the correct pattern is crucial for effective treatment, as it guides the choice of herbs and acupuncture points.

Explore below more details about what might cause Dry cough according to TCM.

  • By Syndrome
  • By Organ
  • Dryness
  • Yin Deficiency
  • Phlegm
  • Heat
  • Body Fluids Deficiency
  • Qi Stagnation
  • Wind
  • Dampness
  • Cold
  • Lung
  • Stomach
Detailed description of the cause

Dryness

"Dryness" in TCM refers to a state where there is a lack of moisture in the body, much like how the land feels during a drought. It's a pattern of disharmony that can arise from external factors like dry weather or internal issues, such as insufficient fluid intake or certain lifestyle habits. When your body experiences this dryness, you might notice symptoms like dry skin, a scratchy throat, dry eyes, or even constipation. It's similar to the feeling of being parched or having dry, chapped lips in a very dry climate. TCM views this as an imbalance where the body's yin - often associated with moisture and cooling - is depleted.... see more

Dryness Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Common Symptoms: Dry Throat Thirst Skin Dryness Fever Perspiration Sore Throat Dry Nose Aversion To Cold

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire Dry cough, Fever, Thirst, Perspiration, Sore throat, Skin dryness, Dry nose, Dry throat, Aversion to cold, Dry mouth... see more Xing Su San | Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang | Sang Xing Tang
Dry-Phlegm in the Lungs Dry cough, Scanty sputum, Shortness of breath, Stifling sensation in the chest, Sputum, Feeling of heaviness, Dizziness, Dry throat, Wheezing, Pale face... see more Bei Mu Gua Lou San
Dry-Wind Dry cough, Aversion to cold, Perspiration, Skin dryness, Dry nose, Dry mouth, Dry throat, Sore throat, Dry tongue... see more Sang Xing Tang
Lung Dryness Dry cough, Dry throat, Skin dryness, Hoarse voice, Thirst Bai He Gu Jin Tang
Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency Hacking cough, Dry throat, Thirst, Fever, Scanty sputum, Dry cough, Red tongue Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang
Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs Dry cough, Headaches, Chills without sweating, Congested nose, Dry throat, Sputum, Common cold, Bronchitis, Emphysema, Upper respiratory tract infections... see more Xing Su San
Detailed description of the cause

Yin Deficiency

Yin deficiency in TCM is a pattern of disharmony characterized by a depletion of the body's Yin energy, which represents the cooling, moistening, and nurturing aspects of our physiology. This condition often arises from factors like chronic stress, overwork, insufficient rest, or prolonged illness. Symptoms of Yin deficiency can include a sensation of heat, especially in the afternoon or evening, night sweats, insomnia, a dry mouth or throat, and a red tongue with little coating. There might also be a general feeling of restlessness or irritability. Since Yin is essential for balancing the body's active and warm Yang energy, its deficiency leads to a relative excess of Yang, manifesting as heat or dryness symptoms.... see more

Yin Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Common Symptoms: Dry Throat Night Sweats Flushed Cheekbones Insomnia Low Grade Fever In The Afternoon Thirst Hoarse Voice Itchy Throat

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Lung Yin Deficiency Dry cough, Hoarse voice, Itchy throat, Reluctance to speak, Thin chest Bai He Gu Jin Tang | Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang | Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang | Bu Fei E Jiao Tang | Jiu Xian San
Yin Deficiency Dry cough, Heat sensation in palms, Emaciation, Sore throat at night, Thirst, Anxiety, Jumpy, Scanty and dark urine, Dry stools, Dry mouth and throat at night, Nocturnal emission, Pain relieved by pressure and cold, Preference for sipping... see more Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Zuo Gui Wan | Mu Li San
Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency Hacking cough, Dry throat, Thirst, Fever, Scanty sputum, Dry cough, Red tongue Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Phlegm

In TCM "Phlegm" as a pattern of disharmony is a complex concept that extends beyond the physical manifestation of mucus. It represents a pathological factor that can disrupt the flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood, leading to various health issues. Phlegm in TCM is seen as a sticky, turbid substance arising from the body's inability to metabolize fluids properly, often due to a dysfunction of the spleen. It's not only associated with respiratory problems like cough and congestion but also with systemic issues. Symptoms can include a feeling of heaviness, mental cloudiness, dizziness, and in some cases, the formation of lumps or masses. Phlegm can even be "invisible," contributing to emotional disturbances like depression or stress. ... see more

Phlegm Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Common Symptoms: Scanty Sputum Shortness Of Breath Stifling Sensation In The Chest Sputum Feeling Of Heaviness Dizziness Dry Throat Wheezing

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Dry-Phlegm in the Lungs Dry cough, Scanty sputum, Shortness of breath, Stifling sensation in the chest, Sputum, Feeling of heaviness, Dizziness, Dry throat, Wheezing, Pale face... see more Bei Mu Gua Lou San
Qi-Phlegm Dry cough, Globus sensation, Dysphagia, Upper abdominal oppression, Irritability, Mood swings, Depression... see more Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Heat

In TCM "Heat" signifies an excess of Yang energy, leading to an imbalance where heat predominates over the body's cool Yin aspects. This condition is metaphorically akin to an internal over-heating. Symptoms indicative of Heat can include feelings of warmth, fever, sweating, irritability, red face, thirst with a preference for cold drinks, and a rapid pulse. The tongue may appear red with a yellow coating. Unlike the common interpretation of heat in terms of temperature, in TCM, it represents a state of hyperactivity or inflammation in the body.... see more

Heat Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Common Symptoms: Fever Thirst Perspiration Sore Throat Skin Dryness Dry Nose Dry Throat Aversion To Cold

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire Dry cough, Fever, Thirst, Perspiration, Sore throat, Skin dryness, Dry nose, Dry throat, Aversion to cold, Dry mouth... see more Xing Su San | Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang | Sang Xing Tang
Half Exterior Half Interior Dry cough, Chest distension, Bitter taste in the mouth, Anxiety, Restlessness, Vomit, Lack of appetite, Dizziness, Blurry vision... see more Xiao Chai Hu Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Body Fluids Deficiency

In TCM a deficiency of body fluids indicates an imbalance where the body lacks sufficient Yin fluids, which are crucial for lubrication and nourishment. This condition often results from prolonged illness, overexertion, or consuming too many drying or heating foods. Symptoms of body fluid deficiency can include dryness in the skin, eyes, mouth, and throat, as well as a dry cough, constipation, and a feeling of thirst. Additionally, there might be more subtle signs like a dry tongue, a thin pulse, and a general sense of fatigue or weakness. This pattern of disharmony reflects an underlying insufficiency in the body's ability to generate and maintain essential fluids, which are vital for the proper functioning of organs and systems.... see more

Body Fluids Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Body Fluids Deficiency Dry cough, Skin dryness, Dry mouth, Dry nose, Dry lips, Dry tongue, Dry throat, Dry stools Bai He Gu Jin Tang | Xing Su San | Zeng Ye Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Qi Stagnation

Qi Stagnation in TCM is like having a traffic jam in your body's energy system. Qi, the vital life force that flows through your body, is supposed to move smoothly to maintain health and balance. But with Qi Stagnation, this flow gets blocked or slowed down, like cars stuck on a highway. This can lead to symptoms like feeling stressed, emotional mood swings, and physical discomfort, often described as a feeling of fullness or tightness, especially in the chest or abdomen. It's as though the body's internal energy circulation is disrupted, causing various issues. TCM sees this as an energy flow problem, different from modern medicine's focus on specific physiological processes.... see more

Qi Stagnation Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Qi-Phlegm Dry cough, Globus sensation, Dysphagia, Upper abdominal oppression, Irritability, Mood swings, Depression... see more Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Wind

In TCM "Wind" is a concept that represents a pattern of disharmony, often characterized by its sudden and unpredictable nature, much like a gusty wind changing direction without warning. This pattern is associated with symptoms that come and go quickly or move around the body, such as itching, tremors, or even certain types of pain. Wind is considered to be a primary cause of illnesses that have these rapidly changing characteristics. In TCM, external Wind often refers to illnesses that start suddenly, like the common cold, believed to be caused by external pathogenic factors like climatic changes. On the other hand, internal Wind can be linked to internal imbalances and can manifest in conditions like dizziness or spasms. ... see more

Wind Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Dry-Wind Dry cough, Aversion to cold, Perspiration, Skin dryness, Dry nose, Dry mouth, Dry throat, Sore throat, Dry tongue... see more Sang Xing Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Dampness

"Dampness" in TCM is a concept that describes a pattern of disharmony where the body accumulates excess moisture. Imagine the heavy, sticky feeling you get on a very humid day; that's similar to what dampness feels like internally. It can manifest as a sense of heaviness, bloating, sluggishness, or even a foggy mind. This condition is often thought to arise from environmental factors like living in a damp place, dietary habits that promote moisture in the body, or internal imbalances that hinder the body's ability to process fluids properly. In TCM, dampness can obstruct the normal flow of energy and fluids in the body, leading to various symptoms.... see more

Dampness Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Lung Dryness Dry cough, Dry throat, Skin dryness, Hoarse voice, Thirst Bai He Gu Jin Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Cold

In TCM "Cold" as a pattern of disharmony refers to a specific type of imbalance within the body's systems, often linked to a deficiency or weakness. It's not about feeling physically cold or having a common cold, but rather a metaphorical description of certain symptoms and underlying conditions. When a TCM practitioner says someone suffers from "Cold," it usually implies that the body's Yang energy, which is warm and active, is insufficient or overpowered by Yin energy, which is cool and passive. Symptoms of Cold in TCM can include a general feeling of coldness, cold limbs, pale complexion, low energy, slow metabolism, and a preference for warmth. ... see more

Cold Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs Dry cough, Headaches, Chills without sweating, Congested nose, Dry throat, Sputum, Common cold, Bronchitis, Emphysema, Upper respiratory tract infections... see more Xing Su San
Detailed description of the cause

Lung

In TCM the Lungs are seen as the organ responsible for controlling Qi and respiration, as well as being a key part of the body's defensive system. They are thought to maintain the balance and flow of air and moisture, and are closely linked to the skin and hair. When the Lungs are imbalanced or malfunctioning in TCM, it can lead to respiratory issues like coughing or asthma, a weakened immune system, dry skin, and emotional disturbances such as sadness or grief. These symptoms are believed to arise from disruptions in the Lungs' ability to regulate Qi and protect the body, highlighting their central role in maintaining overall health and well-being.... see more

Lung Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Common Symptoms: Dry Throat Hoarse Voice Shortness Of Breath Scanty Sputum Sputum Thirst Itchy Throat Reluctance To Speak

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Lung Yin Deficiency Dry cough, Hoarse voice, Itchy throat, Reluctance to speak, Thin chest Bai He Gu Jin Tang | Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang | Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang | Bu Fei E Jiao Tang | Jiu Xian San
Dry-Phlegm in the Lungs Dry cough, Scanty sputum, Shortness of breath, Stifling sensation in the chest, Sputum, Feeling of heaviness, Dizziness, Dry throat, Wheezing, Pale face... see more Bei Mu Gua Lou San
Lung Dryness Dry cough, Dry throat, Skin dryness, Hoarse voice, Thirst Bai He Gu Jin Tang
Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency Hacking cough, Dry throat, Thirst, Fever, Scanty sputum, Dry cough, Red tongue Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang
Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs Dry cough, Headaches, Chills without sweating, Congested nose, Dry throat, Sputum, Common cold, Bronchitis, Emphysema, Upper respiratory tract infections... see more Xing Su San
Detailed description of the cause

Stomach

In TCM the Stomach is regarded as the "sea of nourishment," pivotal for digesting food and transforming it into Qi and blood. It works closely with the Spleen to distribute these essential nutrients throughout the body. When the Stomach is out of balance or malfunctions in TCM, it often leads to digestive problems such as bloating, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, or a feeling of fullness. There may also be issues like acid reflux or a sour taste in the mouth. Emotionally, an imbalanced Stomach can contribute to excessive worry and overthinking, reflecting the TCM belief that physical and emotional well-being are deeply interconnected.... see more

Stomach Patterns That Can Lead to Dry Cough

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency Hacking cough, Dry throat, Thirst, Fever, Scanty sputum, Dry cough, Red tongue Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang

TCM Herbal Formulas for Dry Cough

TCM recommends various formulas and herbs for treating dry cough, tailored to the individual's specific pattern. For Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire conditions, Xing Su San, containing Apricot Seeds, is often used to moisten and relieve the cough.

For Lung Yin Deficiency, Bai He Gu Jin Tang, with Lily Bulbs, is a common choice for its nourishing properties. Each formula is selected based on its ability to address the specific type of imbalance causing the dry cough.

Explore below some TCM herbal formulas used to address dry cough, organized by cause and by formula type.

  • By Cause
  • By Formula Type
  • Dryness
  • Yin Deficiency
  • Phlegm
  • Heat
  • Body Fluids Deficiency
  • Qi Stagnation
  • Wind
  • Dampness
  • Cold
  • Formulas that nourish yin and tonify
  • Formulas that disperse dryness and moisten
  • Formulas that enrich yin and moisten dryness
  • Formulas that clear dryness
  • Formulas that dispel phlegm
  • Formulas that harmonize lesser yang-warp disorders
  • Formulas that secure lungs and stop coughing
  • Formulas that promote qi movement
  • Formulas that stabilize exterior and stop sweating

All Formulas Recommended for Dry Cough Caused by Dryness

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Xing Su San Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire, Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs
Sang Xing Tang Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire, Dry-Wind
Bai He Gu Jin Tang Lung Dryness
Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire
Bei Mu Gua Lou San Dry-Phlegm in the Lungs
Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency

All Formulas Recommended for Dry Cough Caused by Yin Deficiency

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Bai He Gu Jin Tang Lung Yin Deficiency
Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang Lung Yin Deficiency
Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang Lung Yin Deficiency
Bu Fei E Jiao Tang Lung Yin Deficiency
Jiu Xian San Lung Yin Deficiency
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Yin Deficiency
Zuo Gui Wan Yin Deficiency
Mu Li San Yin Deficiency
Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency

All Formulas Recommended for Dry Cough Caused by Phlegm

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Bei Mu Gua Lou San Dry-Phlegm in the Lungs
Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang Qi-Phlegm

All Formulas Recommended for Dry Cough Caused by Heat

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Xing Su San Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire
Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire
Sang Xing Tang Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire
Xiao Chai Hu Tang Half Exterior Half Interior

All Formulas Recommended for Dry Cough Caused by Body Fluids Deficiency

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Bai He Gu Jin Tang Body Fluids Deficiency
Xing Su San Body Fluids Deficiency
Zeng Ye Tang Body Fluids Deficiency

All "formulas that disperse dryness and moisten" recommended for dry cough

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Xing Su San Body Fluids Deficiency, Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire, Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs... see more
Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang Dry-Heat or Dry-Fire, Lung Yin Deficiency
Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency

All "formulas that nourish yin and tonify" recommended for dry cough

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Bai He Gu Jin Tang Lung Yin Deficiency, Body Fluids Deficiency, Lung Dryness
Bu Fei E Jiao Tang Lung Yin Deficiency
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Yin Deficiency
Zuo Gui Wan Yin Deficiency

All "formulas that enrich yin and moisten dryness" recommended for dry cough

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Zeng Ye Tang Body Fluids Deficiency
Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang Lung Yin Deficiency

Acupoints for Dry Cough

TCM also incorporates acupuncture as part of its treatment approach. Key acupoints for dry cough include Gaohuangshu BL-43 and Pohu BL-42, located on the Bladder Channel and known for nourishing Lung Yin and Qi.

Additionally, Zhaohai KID-6 on the Kidney Channel can be effective, especially for cases involving Yin Deficiency, as it helps nourish Kidney Yin and clear Empty-Heat, providing relief from the dry cough.

Explore below some acupoints used to address dry cough, organized by meridian.

  • By Meridian
  • Bladder Channel
  • Kidney Channel
Pohu BL-42

Pohu BL-42

3 cun (about 4 finger-breadths) lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the 3rd thoracic vertebra (T3).

Gaohuangshu BL-43

Gaohuangshu BL-43

3 cun (about 4 finger-breadths) lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the 4th thoracic vertebra (T4).

Zhaohai KID-6

Zhaohai KID-6

Approximately 1 cun below the medial malleolus tip, over the joint space between the talus and the calcaneus.