Coughing is one of the most frequent reasons for people to visit their doctors. A cough is the sudden expelling of air from the lungs, often involuntarily. It is the body’s way to keep the throat and airways clear. Secretions and foreign substances are expelled by the rush of air and can be projected a great distance. The droplets may contain viruses or bacteria, so always cover your mouth when coughing and wash your hands frequently.
Coughs usually go away by themselves in a few days; they may also linger for weeks or months. Coughs can make your throat feel scratchy, disrupt your sleep and make it difficult to rest. You need to know some facts before looking for cough relief.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are many possible causes of a cough, which is why it is one of the most difficult conditions to treat. An energy imbalance in each of the five major organ networks can lead to a cough—not only a problem with the Lung. From the TCM point of view, the best doctor does not try to stop or suppress a cough, but rather tries to find its root cause and how to release it from your body. Actually, a cough has two faces: on one hand it causes discomfort, and on the other, it has a positive aspect because it is the body’s attempt to release something, such as toxins or an energy stagnation. Many Western treatments view a cough in a negative way and try to stop it immediately instead of helping it to be released from the body. Yet be aware of this important point: if a cough is suppressed or pushed deeper into the body, the illness or imbalance that caused it will also be pushed deeper into the body to remain hidden, and the body will then carry this illness or imbalance. Down the road, sooner or later, it will come out as a different condition, for example, as a skin condition such as eczema or a rash—any kind of skin condition. According to TCM understanding, many conditions can have their origin in an untreated cough: asthma, diabetes, and even cancer. So it is important to find the real cause and not take cough medicine to stop the discomfort of a cough right away.
Because TCM sees a cough as being potentially related to different organs, TCM doctors looks at the particular symptoms accompanying a cough in order to understand and diagnose it accurately. For example, the exact location of pain or a body action accompanying the symptom or an emotion experienced provide clues to which organ is vulnerable. In the case of a cough, sometimes a person feels nauseous when coughing. Sometimes a cough can cause rib pain or send you running to the bathroom to urinate. If your cough causes nausea, then it may be related to a Stomach problem; if your ribs are painful when coughing, then this can indicate a Liver imbalance; if you have to urinate when you cough, your Bladder most likely is out of balance.
If you seem to catch a cold every fall, the Lung is probably the vulnerable organ for you. In TCM theory the fall is related to the Lung organ network. If you are particularly vulnerable at this time you should take care to avoid stress and conditions that can lead to a cold. According to TCM the Lung and the Kidney, the organ related to the winter season, have a close relationship: the Kidney is the “child” of the Lung, meaning that the Lung nourishes and supports the energy (called “Qi” in Chinese) of the Kidney. If the Kidney has an energy deficiency, it can continuously pull energy from the Lung, its “mother,” and this can prevent your body from healing a cough, and so it becomes a persistent condition, one that can even be carried over into the spring from the preceding fall.
Clinic treating cough
To treat a cough, once its root cause has been found, our clinic doctors have used the following treatment modalities successfully over the millennia.
- Acupuncture on specific meridians (energy pathways) related to the distressed organ (or organs) restores the flow of Qi and rebalances the affected organ or organs.
- Herbs in the form of herbal formulas are also used to address the root cause. Bai He Gu Jin Wan is a classical formula frequently used for this condition.
- Diet: Certain foods can help heal this condition. Pears cooked with bitter almonds (available at Asian food markets) and honey is very beneficial for a cough as well as white mushrooms, lily bulbs (both also available at Asian food markets) and persimmons.