Dry cough according to Chinese Medicine

Dry cough 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 dry cough 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 dry cough is often associated with dry mouth, insomnia and night sweats in the pattern “Lung Yin Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause dry cough.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of dry cough 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 dry cough.

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause dry cough

In Chinese Medicine dry cough is a symptom for 3 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 Yin Deficiency

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

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Exterior Heat and Dryness invades the Lungs and exhausts the Body Fluids. It eventually leads to Lung Yin Deficiency, if not intervened for a long time.

In addition to dry cough, other symptoms associated with Lung Yin Deficiency include dry mouth, insomnia and night sweats.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Lung Yin Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Absence Of Menstruation.

Lung Yin Deficiency is often treated with Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Unprepared Rehmannia - Di Huang - as a key herb). Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that enrich yin and moisten dryness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nourishes the Yin".

Read more about Lung Yin Deficiency here

Apricot Seeds (Xing Ren) is the king ingredient for Xing Su San, a formula used for Body Fluids Deficiency

Body Fluids Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi)

Tongue shape: Cracked

If Body Fluids - all liquids in the body other than Blood - are Deficient, then this leads to many symptoms of Dryness.

In addition to dry cough, other symptoms associated with Body Fluids Deficiency include dry throat, dry skin and dry tongue.

Body Fluids Deficiency is often treated with Xing Su San, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Apricot Seeds - Xing Ren - as a key herb). Xing Su San belongs to the category of "formulas that disperse dryness and moisten", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Dry-Cold".

Read more about Body Fluids Deficiency here

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

Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

In addition to dry cough, other symptoms associated with Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs include dry throat, phlegm and headaches.

Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs is often treated with Xing Su San, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Apricot Seeds - Xing Ren - as a key herb). Xing Su San belongs to the category of "formulas that disperse dryness and moisten", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Dry-Cold".

Read more about Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs here

Four herbal formulas that might help with dry cough

Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang

Source date: the 18th century

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes the Yin. Improves throat. Resolves toxicity. Clears the Lungs.

Why might Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang help with dry cough?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lung Yin Deficiency' of which dry cough is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Lung Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Absence Of Menstruation.

Read more about Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang here

Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Source date: 1573 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Lung and Kidney Yin. Lubricates the Lung and clears phlegm.

Why might Bai He Gu Jin Tang help with dry cough?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Body Fluids Deficiency' of which dry cough is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Body Fluids Deficiency include dry throat, dry skin and dry tongue.

Read more about Bai He Gu Jin Tang here

Xing Su San

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Clears Dry-Cold. Disseminates the Lung Qi and relieves cough. Transforms thin mucus.

Why might Xing Su San help with dry cough?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Exterior Dry Cold invading the Lungs' of which dry cough is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Exterior Dry Cold Invading The Lungs include dry throat, phlegm and headaches.

Read more about Xing Su San here

Mai Men Dong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes the Stomach. Generates Body Fluids. Directs Rebellious Qi downward.

Why might Mai Men Dong Tang help with dry cough?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lung Yin Deficiency' of which dry cough is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Lung Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Absence Of Menstruation.

Read more about Mai Men Dong Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat dry cough

Why might Dwarf Lilyturf Root (Mai Dong) help with dry cough?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat dry cough and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat dry cough as a symptom (such as Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang for instance).

Dwarf Lilyturf Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Replenishes Yin Essence and promotes secretions. Lubricates and nourishes the Stomach. Soothes the Lung. Nourishes the Heart.

Read more about Dwarf Lilyturf Roots here

Why might Fritillary Bulb (Chuan Bei Mu) help with dry cough?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat dry cough and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat dry cough as a symptom (such as Bai He Gu Jin Tang for instance).

Fritillary Bulbs is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Clears Hot Phlegm and stops cough. Clears Lung Heat caused by Yin Deficiency. Clears Heat and reduces hard lumps and swellings.

Read more about Fritillary Bulbs here

Why might Apricot Seed (Xing Ren) help with dry cough?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat dry cough and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat dry cough as a symptom (such as Xing Su San 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 Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with dry cough?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat dry cough as a symptom, like Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang or Mai Men Dong 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 Ningpo Figwort Root (Xuan Shen) help with dry cough?

Because Ningpo Figwort Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat dry cough as a symptom, like Bai He Gu Jin Tang or Zeng Ye Tang for instance.

Ningpo Figwort Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Stomach, the Large intestine and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Expels true or Internal Heat and cools the Blood. Tonifies the Yin. Reduces inflammations and drains Fire toxicity. Reduces hard nodules, especially associated with the lymph.

Read more about Ningpo Figwort Roots here

Conditions associated with dry cough

Absence of menstruation