Coughing with yellow sputum according to Chinese Medicine

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Coughing with yellow sputum 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 with yellow sputum 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 with yellow sputum is often associated with feeling of heat, shortness of breath and high fever in the pattern “Lung Heat”. As you will see below, we have in record four patterns that can cause coughing with yellow sputum.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of coughing with yellow sputum we’ve identified four 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 with yellow sputum.

The four "patterns of disharmony" that can cause coughing with yellow sputum

In Chinese Medicine coughing with yellow sputum is a symptom for 4 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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

Lung Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

In addition to coughing with yellow sputum, other symptoms associated with Lung Heat include feeling of heat, shortness of breath and high fever.

Lung Heat is often treated with Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ephedra - Ma Huang - as a key herb). Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear heat from the organs", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates Lung Qi".

Read more about Lung Heat here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Wen Dan Tang, a formula used for Phlegm-Heat

Phlegm-Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

Tongue shape: Swollen

Phlegm-Heat arises when Dampness or Body Fluids combine with pathogenic Heat. Common symptoms include the coughing of a thick, yellow, viscous sputum that is difficult to expectorate and a red, flushed face.

In addition to coughing with yellow sputum, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Heat include chest fullness, nausea and red face.

Phlegm-Heat is often treated with Wen Dan Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Wen Dan 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: "Clears Hot-Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm-Heat here

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

Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

In addition to coughing with yellow sputum, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs include feeling of heat, shortness of breath and chest fullness.

Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs is often treated with Wen Dan Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Wen Dan 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: "Clears Hot-Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs here

Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

In addition to coughing with yellow sputum, other symptoms associated with Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat include labored breathing.

Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat is often treated with Ding Chuan Tang, a herbal formula made of 9 herbs (including Ginkgo Nuts - Bai Guo - as a key herb). Ding Chuan 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: "Clears Lung Heat".

Read more about Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat here

Four herbal formulas that might help with coughing with yellow sputum

Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates Lung Qi. Clears Heat. Calms wheezing by directing rebellious Qi downward.

Why might Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lung Heat' of which coughing with yellow sputum is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Lung Heat include feeling of heat, shortness of breath and high fever.

Read more about Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang here

Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan

Source date: 1584 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Phlegm. Directs Rebellious Qi downwards. Stops coughing.

Why might Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Heat' of which coughing with yellow sputum is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Heat include chest fullness, nausea and red face.

Read more about Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan here

Ding Chuan Tang

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Clears Lung Heat. Expectorant for asthma.

Why might Ding Chuan Tang help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Wind-Cold invading the Interior with Phelgm-Heat' of which coughing with yellow sputum is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Wind-Cold Invading The Interior With Phelgm-Heat include labored breathing.

Read more about Ding Chuan Tang here

Wen Dan Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Hot-Phlegm. Clears Gallbladder heat. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Wen Dan Tang help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs' of which coughing with yellow sputum is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Heat In The Lungs include feeling of heat, shortness of breath and chest fullness.

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat coughing with yellow sputum

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

Because Crow-Dipper Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat coughing with yellow sputum as a symptom, like Wen Dan Tang or Er Chen Tang for instance.

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

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 Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat coughing with yellow sputum as a symptom, like Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang or Er Chen Tang for instance.

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

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 Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi) help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because Tangerine Peel is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat coughing with yellow sputum as a symptom, like Er Chen Tang or Wen Dan Tang for instance.

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

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 Apricot Seed (Xing Ren) help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because Apricot Seed is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat coughing with yellow sputum as a symptom, like Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang or Ding Chuan Tang for instance.

Apricot Seeds is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Large intestine and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Stops cough and wheezing caused by either Heat or Cold. Lubricates the Intestines and relieves constipation.

Read more about Apricot Seeds here

Why might Immature Bitter Orange (Zhi Shi) help with coughing with yellow sputum?

Because Immature Bitter Orange is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat coughing with yellow sputum as a symptom, like Wen Dan Tang or Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan for instance.

Immature Bitter Oranges is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter, Pungent and Sour. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Large intestine.

Its main actions are: Regulates the flow of Qi in the Middle Burner and reduces Food Stagnation. Moves Qi downward and helps constipation. Reduces Stagnant Phlegm and lessens distention and pain. For prolapse of organs when used with the appropriate herbs.

Read more about Immature Bitter Oranges here