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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Vong U Chan and Dr Andre Budihardjo on December 6, 2022

6 Reasons Why You Have A Chronic Cough And How To Treat It

A chronic cough may persist in the cold weather, but there are many things you can do at home to treat it.

Chronic cough min scaled

A chronic cough is common during this time of year. Sometimes, the cold weather is to blame. Other times, it can be suggestive of a more serious underlying health condition.

A cough can be defined as chronic if it persists for longer than eight weeks. In many cases, other symptoms are present, too, such as nasal congestion or fatigue.

In this guide, we’ll explain 6 reasons why you may have a lingering cough. Our experts also provide tips for soothing your cough and addressing potential underlying issues.

What Causes A Chronic Cough?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) categorizes coughs into two main types. According to TCM Physician Vong U Chan, the first type is caused by external pathogens. They are acute and usually happen for a short duration.

The second type is caused by internal functional imbalances. Those coughs last longer, develop gradually and can turn into chronic coughs.

“Coughs are not only related to the Lungs. In TCM, internal functional imbalances in the Lungs, Liver, Spleen, and stomach can all result in a chronic cough.” 

Physician Vong.

These are the four types of coughs in TCM: 

The Lung-Yin Deficiency cough  

A man coughing and holding his throat area
If your chronic cough is accompanied by a dry throat, it may be due to a Lung-Yin Deficiency.

This is characterized by a short dry cough, sometimes accompanied by scanty and sticky white phlegm.

If you have this type of cough, you will often also experience symptoms related to Yin Deficiency, such as a dry nose, mouth, and throat, flushed cheeks, a sore throat, and night sweats

The Liver-Fire chronic cough 

A person with Liver-Fire cough produces a high-pitched cough that occurs in bursts, feels pain in the chest and rib area, and produces sticky yellow phlegm that is difficult to expectorate.

Breathlessness, tightness around the chest, headaches, dizziness, a flushed face, a dry throat, constant thirst, and constipation are also common. A bitter sensation in the mouth is common, too.

Phlegm-Dampness cough 

This is a continuous cough with a heavy turbid sound that produces great quantities of white, watery, or foamy phlegm. It is aggravated by sweet, fried, and oily food. If you have this type of cough, you will usually complain of indigestion, a feeling of fullness in the chest, poor appetite, fatigue, and loose stools. 

Phlegm-Heat cough  

A Phlegm-Heat cough is a rough, husky cough accompanied by rapid breathing, thick yellow or blood-tinged phlegm that is difficult to expectorate, and distension or pain in the chest. Aversion to heat, dry and sticky aftertaste in the mouth, and feeling thirsty are also common. 

What Causes A Chronic Cough?

Most chronic coughs are caused by the following: 

Postnasal drip 

This happens when your nose or sinuses produce extra mucus. The mucus drips down the back of your throat, triggering your cough reflex. It is also known as upper airway cough syndrome (UACS). 


If your chronic cough is allergy-related, it can present after an upper respiratory tract infection or when you are exposed to cold air, chemicals, and fragrances.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 

This is when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus that connects your stomach and throat, causing irritation and leading to chronic coughing. The coughing worsens GERD and it becomes a vicious cycle.


A common cause of chronic cough in adults is pertussis, or whooping cough. It can also occur with fungal infections of the lungs, tuberculosis (TB) infection, or lung infection with nontuberculous mycobacterial organisms. 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 

A young man holding a cigarette and experiencing smoker's cough
Smoking increases your risk of developing a chronic cough.

COPD affects those who are smokers or who used to smoke. It is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs and includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Blood pressure drugs 

If you have high blood pressure or heart failure and have been prescribed Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, that can be a cause of chronic cough. 

How To Prevent A Chronic Cough 

In TCM, the Lungs occupy the uppermost position among the five organs. It is delicate in character and is connected to the external environment, meaning it is most susceptible to attack by external pathogens.

To prevent a chronic cough, you should always protect yourself from external pathogens to prevent an acute cough from developing into a chronic one.

Physician Vong advises that you should always keep yourself warm by wearing clothing to avoid wind from entering the body.

“It is important to strengthen the body’s qi (which is yang in nature). Hence, avoiding the cold (be it cold food or a cold environment) is one way to preserve one’s yang qi. Treat any acute cough timely to prevent it from developing into a chronic cough.” 

Physician Vong.

Tips For Treating A Chronic Cough

A smiling young woman holding an asthma inhaler
An inhaler can help if you deal with a chronic cough.

Some strategies that can be implemented to manage a chronic cough include the following: 

  • Stop smoking 
  • Avoid triggers that cause the chronic coughing 
  • Stop using an ACE inhibitor and switch to an alternative anti-hypertensive 

TCM recommends a combination of herbs depending on the type of cough.

“A cough is a very tricky illness – it is not simply about suppressing the cough, but rather, helping the Lungs to regain its function of descending and ascending action of qi to allow regular movement of overall qi in the body, and treating the organ that is the root cause for the persistent cough. Hence, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for a chronic cough.” 

Physician Vong.

Herbal remedies

The following are some common prescriptions used for various coughs:  

  • Lung-Yin Deficiency cough: Sha Shen Mai Dong Tang and Lily Gujin soup to reduce dry throat, cough, and mouth
  • Liver Fire coughDai Ge powder and Drain the White Powder (Xie Bai San) can be used to reduce a high-pitched cough that occurs in bursts, pain in the chest and rib area, and sticky yellow phlegm
  • Wind-Heat Cough: Mild Hot Cough powder to reduce persistent cough with thick yellow phlegm accompanied by sore throat, stuffy nose, fever, headache, and cold chills
  • Wind-Cold cough: Mild Cold Cough powder to reduce constant coughing and white clear phlegm accompanied by a stuffy nose with clear mucus
  • Phlegm-Dampness cough: Er Chen Tang, San Zi Yang Qin Tang, and Hou Ning Powder to reduce a deep heavy cough with a large amount of clear watery, or white sticky phlegm, poor appetite, and chest tightness
  • Phlegm-Heat coughs: Qing Jin Hua Tan Tang and Hot Cough Powder to reduce a violent cough accompanied by a flushed complexion, red lips, and extreme thirst

Seek Treatment For Your Chronic Cough

Because there are many COVID-19 patients who are recovering from a cough as a symptom, it is highly recommended that you seek treatment from a doctor or licensed TCM practitioner to identify the root issue of your chronic cough and be prescribed the correct medication. 

How do you manage your chronic cough? Let us know in the comments below.

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Reviews (1)

Mar 17 2023

The detailed description of each type of cough makes it easier for someone to know the type he/she is suffering from.

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