Coughs & Colds: Chinese Medicine Remedies

Last updated on November 10, 2021.

Do you have a sore throat, a cold, or have been coughing lately? In winter especially, living in dense environments makes it easier to viral infection. 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 Chinese Medicine remedies for coughs and colds that you can do at home.

How does Chinese Medicine view coughs and colds?

The pathology of colds and coughs are different. TCM sees cold as a disharmony between body function and climatic factors. For example, if 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 the body.

Coughs are, unsurprisingly, due to a dysfunction of the lung. In TCM theory, qi is dynamic – it moves up and down, in and out. The lung is responsible for qi moving downward, a dysfunction causing qi to move upwards instead would manifest as a cough. To treat a cough, we focus on restoring proper qi movement of the lung.

Why Is Cough Syrup Unsafe For Children?

What can I do to prevent coughs and colds?

  • Keep warm! Cold slows down both blood and qi circulation. It consumes more energy to keep you warm in such conditions. Pay particular attention to avoid exposure to wind, especially on your neck and upper back.
  • Get plenty of rest and get to sleep before 10 pm.
  • Eat seasonal, warm, cooked foods. Avoid raw foods, salads and sandwiches.
  • Stay away from mucus-producing foods such as dairy, deep-fried or spicy food, wheat, refined bread/pasta/rice, fried food, and alcohol.
  • Avoid acidic foods when you have a cough, otherwise, your cough will worsen.

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What can I do to deal with early signs of colds?

In addition to the prevention advice, if you’ve got the early signs of a cold (scratchy throat, fatigue, cough, etc), TCM recommends you to rest and promote sweating. Make a tea from foods such as green onion (cong bai), peppermint, mulberry leaf, or ginger; take a hot bath or shower, and cover your body 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 best at-home Chinese remedies for coughs and colds?

(1) Foods

For a mucus-producing cough, you want to make sure you’re avoiding mucus-producing foods. 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 throat and relieve cough.

  1. Skin the pear and cut the seeds out, 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 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, relieve headache and neck tightness, locate gallbladder meridian acupuncture GB20 (at the base of the skull, in the depression between the 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 health 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 the Hong Kong Polytechnic University 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 updated in May, 2020.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.