Coughing according to Chinese Medicine

Coughing can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like coughing here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here coughing is often associated with shortness of breath, dizziness and palpitations in the pattern “/tcm-education-center/patterns/qi-deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause coughing.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of coughing we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat coughing.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause coughing

In Chinese Medicine coughing is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Ginseng (Ren Shen) is the king ingredient for Si Jun Zi Tang, a formula used for /tcm-education-center/patterns/qi-deficiency

Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Qi Deficiency simply means lack of Qi. It includes the lack of Original Qi, Nutritive Qi, Defensive Qi or the Qi that resides in Organs or Channels. It mainly manifests itself in a weakened function of Organs and a declining ability of the body to resist diseases.

In addition to coughing, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/qi-deficiency include shortness of breath, dizziness and palpitations.

From a Western Medicine standpoint /tcm-education-center/patterns/qi-deficiency is associated with health issues such as Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/qi-deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Qi Deficiency here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for /tcm-education-center/patterns/phlegm-fluids

Phlegm-Fluids

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

In addition to coughing, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/phlegm-fluids include shortness of breath, chest fullness and oedema.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/phlegm-fluids is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids here

Inula Flowers (Xuan Fu Hua) is the king ingredient for Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a formula used for /tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-qi

Rebellious Qi

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red sides

Rebellious Qi is when Qi flows in the wrong direction. For instance, if one suffers from a rebellious Stomach Qi (a common case), the normal downward flow of Stomach Qi is disrupted and it goes upward instead. This may result in nausea, vomiting, belching or hiccupping.

In addition to coughing, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-qi include asthma, vomiting and diarrhea.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-qi is often treated with Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Inula Flowers - Xuan Fu Hua - as a key herb). Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang belongs to the category of "formulas for a rebellious qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi".

Read more about Rebellious Qi here

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Kidney Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Swollen

Kidney Yang Deficiency causes Internal Cold and weakness.

In addition to coughing, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yang-deficiency include asthma, dizziness and aversion to cold.

From a Western Medicine standpoint /tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yang-deficiency is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation, Menopausal Syndrome or Irregular Menstruation.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yang-deficiency is often treated with Ba Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Ba Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Yang".

Read more about Kidney Yang Deficiency here

The Lungs is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Lungs in Chinese Medicine

Wind-Heat invading the Lungs

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Floating (Fu)

In addition to coughing, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/wind-heat-invading-the-lungs include sore throat, fever and headaches.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/wind-heat-invading-the-lungs is often treated with Yin Qiao San, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Honeysuckle Flowers - Jin Yin Hua - as a key herb). Yin Qiao San belongs to the category of "external formulas for external disorders", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Disperses Wind Heat".

Read more about Wind-Heat invading the Lungs here

Five herbal formulas that might help with coughing

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Si Jun Zi Tang help with coughing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/qi-deficiency' of which coughing is a symptom.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Er Chen Tang

Source date: 1148 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm. Regulates Qi and harmonizes the Middle Burner (Stomach and Spleen).

Why might Er Chen Tang help with coughing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/phlegm-fluids' of which coughing is a symptom.

Read more about Er Chen Tang here

Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Directs rebellious Qi downward. Arrests wheezing. Stops coughing. Warms and transforms Phlegm-Cold.

Why might Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang help with coughing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-qi' of which coughing is a symptom.

Read more about Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang here

Ba Wei Di Huang Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Yang. Warms the Kidneys and lower extremities.

Why might Ba Wei Di Huang Wan help with coughing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yang-deficiency' of which coughing is a symptom.

Read more about Ba Wei Di Huang Wan here

Yin Qiao San

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Disperses Wind Heat. Clears Heat. Resolves Toxicity.

Why might Yin Qiao San help with coughing?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/wind-heat-invading-the-lungs' of which coughing is a symptom.

Read more about Yin Qiao San here

Acupuncture points used for coughing

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat coughing

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with coughing?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat coughing and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat coughing as a symptom (such as Bao Yuan Tang for instance).

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with coughing?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat coughing and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat coughing as a symptom (such as Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang for instance).

Fresh Ginger is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning.

Read more about Fresh Ginger here

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with coughing?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat coughing and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat coughing as a symptom (such as Er Chen Tang for instance).

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi) help with coughing?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat coughing and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat coughing as a symptom (such as Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang for instance).

Tangerine Peel is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and regulates the Middle Burner Qi. Dries Dampness and disperses Phlegm from the Lungs and Middle Burner. Reduces the potential for Stagnation caused by tonifying herbs.

Read more about Tangerine Peel here

Why might Baikal Skullcap Root (Huang Qin) help with coughing?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat coughing and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat coughing as a symptom (such as Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan for instance).

Baikal Skullcap Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder, the Heart, the Large intestine, the Lung, the Small intestine and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Expels Heat and Dampness. Clears Upper Burner Heat, especially of the Lung. Clears Heat and stops reckless movement of Blood. Clears pathogenic Heat which is upsetting the fetus. Cools the Liver, reducing Liver Yang rising syndrome.

Read more about Baikal Skullcap Roots here