Dry cough according to Chinese Medicine

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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 dry throat in the pattern “Lung Yin Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five 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 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 dry cough.

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

In Chinese Medicine dry cough 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.

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 dry throat.

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

Dry Phlegm in the Lungs

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Fine (Xi)

In addition to dry cough, other symptoms associated with Dry Phlegm in the Lungs include dizziness, dry throat and shortness of breath.

Dry Phlegm in the Lungs is often treated with Bei Mu Gua Lou San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Fritillary Bulbs - Chuan Bei Mu - as a key herb). Bei Mu Gua Lou San belongs to the category of "formulas that dispel phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Moistens the Lungs".

Read more about Dry Phlegm in the Lungs here

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

Kidney and Lung Yin Deficiency

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

In addition to dry cough, other symptoms associated with Kidney and Lung Yin Deficiency include dry mouth, dizziness and dry throat.

Kidney and Lung Yin Deficiency is often treated with Ba Xian Chang Shou Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Ba Xian Chang Shou 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: "Treats Yin Deficiency of the Lungs and Kidneys".

Read more about Kidney and Lung Yin 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

Five herbal formulas that might help with dry cough

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

Zeng Ye Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin and Essence. Lubricates Dryness.

Why might Zeng Ye 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 Zeng Ye Tang here

Bei Mu Gua Lou San

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Moistens the Lungs. Clears Heat. Regulates Qi. Resolve Phlegm.

Why might Bei Mu Gua Lou San help with dry cough?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Dry Phlegm In The Lungs include dizziness, dry throat and shortness of breath.

Read more about Bei Mu Gua Lou San 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

Ba Xian Chang Shou Wan

Source date: 1615 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Treats Yin Deficiency of the Lungs and Kidneys.

Why might Ba Xian Chang Shou Wan help with dry cough?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney And Lung Yin Deficiency include dry mouth, dizziness and dry throat.

Read more about Ba Xian Chang Shou Wan 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 Mai Men Dong 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 Bei Mu Gua Lou San 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 Snake Gourd Root (Tian Hua Fen) 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 Bei Mu Gua Lou San for instance).

Snake Gourd Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter, Sour and Sweet. It targets the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Clears Heat in the Lungs and moistens Dryness, especially when there is Phlegm that is aggravating the condition. Brings down inflammation and reduces pus.

Read more about Snake Gourd Roots 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 Mai Men Dong Tang or Yang Yin Qing Fei 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

Conditions associated with dry cough

Absence of menstruation