The Six Evils that cause Coughing



In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), coughing indicates abnormal qi Activity inside the lungs.

TCM believes that the lungs are not only responsible for respiration, but also dominate the qi (vital energy) of the whole body.


It inhales pure qi from nature and exhales the impure qi. It also receives nutrient qi from the spleen, combines the nutrient qi with the inhaled qi to form pectoral qi which then enters blood and then is distributed over the body. The different types of qi flow in a specific and coordinated manner, when the qi flows inside the lungs are interrupted, symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, weakness and even excess sweating will result.


The development of a cough can have external or internal origins.


1. Invasion of external pathogens

The lungs are situated in the chest; they connect with the throat and open into the nose. Among the five yin organs, the lungs are most vulnerable to external pathogens. Six pathogens (or evils as they are often known in TCM) tend to take advantage of extreme weather changes or temporary bodily weakness, enter the lungs through the openings of the body.


They disturb the qi flows of the lungs, cause abnormal secretions in the respiratory tract and thus induce coughing. In most cases, wind evils are the foremost pathogens to invade the lungs, and they usually join up with cold, heat or dryness evils to accomplish the attack. As a result, the cough may present as different types, depending on the seasonal influence.


2. Internal health problems

Coughing can be caused by dysfunction of the internal organs such as the lungs themselves or other organs involving the lung.


  • Lung dysfunction that can't maintain the normal qi activities inside the system will have coughing as a major sign of the condition. This usually occurs in chronic lung conditions.


  • Spleen dysfunction: When the spleen is dysfunctional, it cannot transform food and drinks into nutrient essence effectively, there will be inadequate nutrient essence to supply the body and respiratory activity will weaken. A dysfunctional spleen also produces dampness and phlegm that attack the lungs directly, and so cause coughing. This is usually associated with an improper diet and excess alcohol intake.


  • Liver dysfunction:Emotional upsets or stress can lead to liver qi stagnation; as time passes the stagnated liver will generate fire. The fire may attack the lungs, transform the lung's fluid into phlegm, interrupt its qi flow and induce coughing.


  • Kidney dysfunction: Normal respiration depends on mutual regulation by the Kidneys and the lungs. When the kidneys fail to coordinate the lung's qi exchanging activity, it can lead to respiratory problems.


Since TCM sees a cough as being potentially related to different organs, TCM physicians look at the particular symptoms accompanying a cough in order to understand and diagnose it accurately. For example, an itchy throat may indicate wind evils attacking the lungs; frequent urination is associated with unconsolidated kidney qi; fatigue suggests there is qi deficiency and a dysfunctional spleen; and virtual fire also leads to hot flushes, night sweats and red cheeks.


A TCM physician does not try to stop or suppress a cough, but rather tries to find its underlying disharmony and how to release it from the body. While it causes discomfort, a cough has a positive aspect since it is the body's attempt to release something that shouldn't be there, such as toxins or energy stagnation.


Working with you to understand your heart and body, is just one of the many ways Traditional Chinese Medicine is different but complimentary to Western Medicine.


Eca Brady is a fully licensed physician of Chinese Medicine BSc(Ac) MBAcC PGDip(CHM), practicing from Harley Street, London. Make an appointment for an acupuncture treatment and we can discuss how we can help you, to read more about Eca click here


Excerpts from the original article by Shen Nong.


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