When you cough, it is due to your body’s natural reaction of clearing the irritants in your throat and airways. If your cough persists for a long period of time or if you produce unusual secretions (of mucus or blood), it may signal some underlying health conditions that require medical attention.
TCM physicians take into consideration the main characteristics of the cough, such as the coughing sound, when the cough is most frequent, the sputum and other accompanying symptoms to identify the specific cough pattern before prescribing suitable treatments.
The root causes of cough can be generally due to external pathogens or internal functional imbalance.
Cough can be caused by groups of external pathogens (Wind, Cold, Dampness, Dryness, Heat and Fire) which may attack singly or in combinations. It usually has a sudden onset and lasts for a short period. However, if treatment is not suitable, the cough may aggravate internal imbalances.
Wind pathogen is the main cause for exterior coughs. It first invades the skin and the Protective Qi, which is governed by the Lungs. Next, it impairs the descending Lung-Qi and causes cough. These are some of the common patterns of cough:
• Wind-Heat Cough
General symptoms such as a harsh and loud-sounding cough; rough breathing; thick yellow phlegm that’s difficult to expectorate; dry mouth or sore throat; thirst; fever; perspiration; an aversion to cold; headache; general aching; yellow nasal discharge.
• Wind-Cold Cough
General symptoms such as a weak coughing sound; slight breathlessness; little white phlegm; runny nose with thin white nasal discharge; headache; aching limbs; absence of perspiration; fever; an aversion to cold.
• Wind-Dryness Cough
General symptoms include a dry or sore throat; dry or chapped lips, mouth, nose and skin; scanty or sticky phlegm that’s difficult to expectorate; cough with chest pain; stuffy nose; headache; slight aversion to cold; fever.
• Dryness-Heat Cough
General symptoms include a husky coughing sound, thick or blood-tinged phlegm, dryness of nose cavity and lips; itchy and sore throat; fever; aversion to wind.
A cough that’s caused by internal functional imbalance develops gradually. It is attributable to dysfunctions not limited to the Lungs, but also to other organ systems which are closely related to the Lungs such as Liver, Spleen or Stomach.
• Lung-Yin Deficiency Cough
General symptoms such as a short, hasty and dry cough; dry nose, mouth and throat; sore throat; flushed cheeks and being prone to night perspiration.
• Lung-Qi Deficiency Cough
General symptoms include a weak coughing sound; occasional shortness of breath; weak voice; little clear phlegm; spontaneous or profuse sweating during daytime; paleness; fatigue; an aversion to wind and cold.
• Liver-Fire Cough
General symptoms include a barking sound of cough with a painful sensation at the chest region; yellow or blood-tinged phlegm that is difficult to expectorate; breathlessness; headache; dizziness; flushed face; a constant thirst; bitter sensation in the mouth; dry throat; scanty dark urine; constipation.
• Damp Cough
General symptoms include a continuous cough with a heavy turbid sound; profuse white watery or foamy phlegm; indigestion; fullness in the chest; poor appetite; fatigue; loose stools.
• Heat Cough
General symptoms include a rough and husky cough; hasty breathing; thick yellow or blood-tinged phlegm that is difficult to expectorate; distension or pain in the chest.