Clear your throat
Updated: 2015-02-26

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COUGH: The cold weather can make it difficult to shake a cough. Traditional Chinese Medicine may provide a solution. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

The cold weather can lead to persistent coughs. If antibiotics don’t work, sufferers may want to try Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments. 

As the temperature drops, people are susceptible to catching a cold, suffering from sore throats, sneezing and a lingering cough. That is because as internal body temperatures fall after exposure to cold air, so does the immune system’s ability to beat back the rhinovirus that causes colds. And the coughing can last for weeks or even months.

Occasional coughing is normal as it keeps the lungs and airways free from mucus and foreign substances that might interfere with breathing. But a stubborn cough requires medical attention. Patients who take antibiotics for one week but do not have any improvements in coughing could try Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which has its theory and therapy on treating persistent coughs, says Zhou Xiaoyan, a doctor with Shanghai Leiyunshang Traditional Chinese Medicine Center.

TCM is effective in treating coughing because TCM physicians first diagnose the pattern of a cough and then treat it accordingly.

During the winter, people are accustomed to replenishing their bodies with more nutritious food, such as a variety of meats to keep warm and do less physical exercise. This causes a lot of extra heat inside the body. Coughing from heat produces sticky phlegm that is difficult to expectorate, but it can be treated with cooling, moistening herbs and acupuncture points that clear heat from the lungs.

On the other hand, a cough due to external coldness penetrating into the lungs is accompanied by chills and mucus. It can be treated with warming, drying herbs and the application of moxibustion.

From a TCM perspective, coughing can originate from health problems not only in the lungs, but also in other internal organs. The deficiency of "Yang qi" or vital energy in the spleen and kidney can also lead to coughing, Zhou says. Generally, these are not exclusive remedies for all coughs.

Each remedy is tailored to the individual, and adjustments during the course of treatment are common. But Zhou suggests some food remedies that can help when treating coughs.

1. For coughs caused by internal heat, one can put a few bitter apricots seeds into a pear and steam it. Eat the pear and drink the water. This can clear heat and eliminate phlegm.

2. For coughing due to external coldness, one can try ginger and brown sugar mixture. Mix bruised ginger and brown sugar, then add some honey to turn it into a paste and eat about 9 grams once. Brown sugar is effective in nourishing blood, invigorating vital energy and removing dampness, while ginger drains sweat, kills bacteria and soothes the lungs.

3. People who cough and have a lot of phlegm can try "seeds porridge" — lightly stir-fired polished round-grained rice, waxgourd seeds, perillaseeds and white mustard seeds and then cook them as a congee.

4. People suffering from coughs should not have cold drinks, fried food, sweetmeats or any food high in fat.

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COOLING: Apricot seeds and a pear can help clear internal heat and soothe lungs. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

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