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Chronic Cough

This is an appropriate time of year to address a lingering cough. In Traditional Chinese Medicine each season correlates to specific organ. Autumn is connected to the Lung organ and a great time to get support for coughs as well as other respiratory issues like asthma, wheezing, allergies, and to support immunity for fighting respiratory infections.


Common Causes

From a biomedical point of view here are some common conditions underlying chronic coughs (considered chronic if it lasts more than 8 weeks in an adult):

Asthma- dry cough, usually worse at night, possible shortness of breath, wheezing, may be seasonal

GERD- worse at night, when laying down, after meals. history of heartburn, belching, regurgitation

Infection- lingers after upper respiratory infection

Post nasal drip-due to allergy, infection, GERD. Feeling of mucus or lump in throat, cough worse at night, urge to clear throat.

Medication-dry, tickly cough, begins immediately or months after taking blood pressure medication

Lung Cancer- a less likely cause with symptoms of fatigue, breathlessness, cough that comes in spasms, unexplained weight loss.


Chinese Medicine Point of View

Chinese Medicine views health concerns as disharmonies in the body which are treated by restoring balance. An underlying pattern is determined based on an individual's set of symptoms. Once a pattern is identified, both the symptoms and the underlying causes are treated. Here are two common patterns for chronic cough:

Non-productive cough

Pattern: This is a deficient condition due to weak lung energy and damage from heat and dryness.

Productive Coughs

Pattern: This is an excess condition that signifies too much moisture in the body that accumulates and obstructs the lungs.

Symptoms: dry & weak cough, dry throat, worse in afternoon or evening or with fatigue, hoarse voice

Symptoms: thick, sticky white mucus, worse in the morning, rattling sound, wheezing

The Kidney system is the root of all yin in the body. Yin provides cooling and moistening functions. When yin in not balanced, there are depleted moisture levels and conditions that are hot and dry will arise. This can be common with inflammation after long term infection.

The excess of moisture in the body is considered dampness. Dampness occurs when digestion fails to transform food and water into usable nutrients for our body.

Other signs of yin deficiency: dryness (throat, skin, eyes, hair), night sweats, hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia

Other signs of dampness: nasal congestion, bloating, tired after eating or when waking up, foggy headed, loose stools.


Nutritional Therapy

For a dry cough: Eat foods that are considered moistening or pungent: pears, apples, apricots, sweet potato, broccoli, cinnamon, seaweed, almonds, peanuts, rice, eggs, garlic, onion, and radishes. Limit spicy food.

For a phlegmy cough:

Foods that are warmer are more easily digested are helpful for a cough with mucus. This includes warm in temperature, as well as what is considered warm energetically. Increase warming spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, turmeric), garlic, ginger, onions, root vegetables, soups and stews. Cut back on foods right out of the refrigerator, ice water, and try steaming or roasting vegetables instead of eating raw.

Use essential oils like eucalyptus, ginger, peppermint, clove, and rosemary.

For temporary relief of a cough add a honey, lemon, and ginger to hot water.


Acupuncture, cupping, and herbal formulas have been shown to reduce difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and relieve conditions like asthma, allergies, and bronchitis.

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