Ask Grand Master Lu: Treating a Pesky Cough

Question: Every Autumn, I catch a cold. I’m left with a terrible cough throughout the Winter. Last year, my cough remained even after three rounds of antibiotics. Can TCM help?


Although a cough causes discomfort, it has a positive side—it is the body’s way of trying to release something, such as a toxin or energy stagnation. Many people take cough medicines to suppress the cough instead of allowing the body to release it. If a cough is suppressed or pushed into the body, the imbalance that caused it will also be pushed deeper into the body. The body will carry this imbalance, and a different condition will surface later on. For example, suppressing a cough now may turn into a skin condition, such as eczema, later.

Because TCM understands that a cough could be related to different organs, TCM doctors look at symptoms accompanying a cough in order to diagnose it. Sometimes a person feels nauseous when coughing. This could be related to a Stomach imbalance. Sometimes a cough can cause rib pain or send you running to the bathroom to urinate. Rib pain might indicate a Liver imbalance, while the need to urinate could point to a deficiency in your Kidney/Bladder system.

Since your cough is cyclical, we have to look to Nature and its seasonal changes. In TCM, Fall is related to the Lung. Try to avoid stress and keep the body warm in Fall. Cold can invade your body through the skin or through your mouth and nose, causing congestion, sneezing and coughing. This is why it’s important to dress warmly and cover your skin, neck and head in cooler weather. Also, wind has the ability to break though the body’s first line of defense, the skin. So bundle up or stay inside on windy days.

The Lung and the Kidney—connected to the Winter season—have a close relationship. It is possible that your Kidney has an energy deficiency that prevents your body from healing the cough, and so the cycle continues.

Once the root cause of a cough has been found, a TCM doctor uses acupuncture on specific meridians. Herbs are also used to address the root cause. Certain foods can help this condition, too. For example, baked pears with almonds and honey is soothing for a cough.

Baked Pears with Almonds and Honey


1 ripe pear, julienned

4-5 almonds

peel from one tangerine, washed

1 teaspoon honey



Place the pear in a small pot with three cups of water. Add all remaining ingredients. Simmer over low heat for about ten minutes. Discard the tangerine peel and enjoy the pears while warm.

Looking for More?

You’ll find some delicious recipes to boost your Lung and Kidney function here.