Guide to At-Home Chinese Medicine Remedies for Coughs and Colds

With our crown of ‘most-dense city in the world’, it can be hard to avoid getting a cough or cold in Hong Kong. The MTR, work environments and schools all make it easier for viruses to spread. In the first of our series on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we worked in collaboration with TCM practitioner William Lo 盧文健中醫師 to bring you a trusted guide to natural Chinese Medicine remedies for coughs and colds.

How does TCM view coughs and colds?

The pathology of colds and coughs are different. TCM sees diseases as a disharmony between bodily function and climatic factors. For example, if someone’s qi level is low, it’s difficult to cope with a change of climate, and will lead to illness. To address someone catching a cold, I would treat the qi dysfunction at the dermal level, allowing the body to expel the cold-causing pathological factors from body.
Coughs are, unsurprisingly, due to a dysfunction of the lung. In TCM, qi is dynamic – it moves up and down, in and out. The lungs are responsible for qi moving downward so a dysfunction causes air to move upwards instead of downwards, manifesting as a cough. To treat a cough we focus on regaining the proper qi movement of lung.

What can I do to naturally prevent coughs and colds?

  • Breathe through your nose.
  • Dress warmly! Cold reduces your circulation and requires more energy to keep you warm. Pay particular attention to reducing exposure to wind, especially on your neck and upper back.
  • Get plenty of rest and pay particular attention to getting to bed before 10pm.
  • Eat seasonal, warm, cooked foods. Avoid raw salads and sandwiches.
  • Stay away from mucus-producing foods such as dairy, deep fried or spicy food, wheat, refined breads/pastas/rice, fried food and alcohol.
  • Avoid oranges (or acidic foods) when you have cough, otherwise your cough will worsen.

What can I do to fight off early signs of a cold?

In addition to adhering to the prevention advice, if you’ve got the early signs of a cold (scratchy throat, fatigue, feeling ‘under the weather’, etc.), TCM recommends you to rest and SWEAT it out. Make a tea from foods such as green onion (cong bai), peppermint, mulberry leaf, or ginger; have a hot bath or shower; and layer up under the covers to sweat more! To really fend off a sick day, TCM also recommends getting daily acupuncture sessions for 3-5 consecutive days.

What are the at-home remedies TCM recommends for coughs and colds?

(1) Foods

For a mucus-producing cough, you want to make sure you’re avoiding the mucus-producing foods mentioned above. William Lo also recommends eating steamed salted orange.
  1. Cut the top off an orange, like a lid. Poke some holes in it. Pour 1/2 -1 tsp of salt on the exposed orange.
  2. Put the ‘lid’ back on and steam it for 15 minutes.
  3. Put it in a bowl and peel away the skin. Eat the orange and drink its juice.
For a dry cough or sore throat, William Lo recommends eating steamed Asian pear with rock sugar to moisten your throat and relieve your cough.
  1. Skin the pear and cut the seeds out and the top off like a lid.
  2. Fill the hole with rock sugar and goji berries. Put the lid on and steam the pear for 40 minutes.

(2) Self-acupressure

To relieve a cough, locate lung meridian acupuncture LU7 (on the edge of the palm, midway between the base of the thumb and wrist). Gently massage the point for 1 minute.

LU10 lung meridian 

To recover from a cold and relieve headache and neck tightness, locate gallbladder meridian acupuncture GB20 at the base of skull, in the depression between your spine and lateral neck muscles. Gently massage the point for 1 minute.
 GB20 gallbladder meridian
If you get coughs and colds frequently, William Lo suggests visiting a TCM practitioner to strengthen your body’s constitution and address any underlying issues.
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William Lo 盧文健中醫師 is a registered Chinese Medicine practitioner and physiotherapist, practicing at Hong Kong Atlas Chinese Medicine & Physiotherapy Centre (Acupuncture) in Mong Kok. William received his BSc (Hons) in Physiotherapy at HKU and his Masters in Chinese Medicine at CUHK. He focuses on integrating both Eastern and Western medicine in his practice, focusing on sports injuries and pain management.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and not sponsored. It is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.