Another way of saying 'cough' in Chinese medicine is 'Rebellious Lung energy'. In other words, a cough is caused by disruption of the Lung qi that causes it to rebell upwards. Now, there are many reasons why this may occur and I will give an overview of some of the mechanisms within Chinese Medicine Theory that could result in rebellious Lung Qi, or a cough.
A cough can occur because there is some kind of obstruction in the Lungs that prevents the proper movement of energy. This obstruction may be very tangible, such as phlegm on the chest that causes a rattling cough with the production of phlegm. In this case phlegm in the Lungs prevents the proper movement of Lung energy. Phlegm in this case is termed a 'pathogen'. A pathogen is something in the body this is able to create an imbalance or illness. There are other types of pathogen that can effect the movement of Lung qi but they are not so obvious and they may not be visible, however the symptoms will be. For example, asthma is characterised by Wind lodged in the chest. Wind is not visible, however it does disrupt the movement of qi in the chest and can lead to chest tightness & wheezing. Pathogens often interact as well. For example, if there is Wind lodged in the chest then the Lung qi mechanism will be disrupted and this can lead to phlegm accumulating. Wind is a Chinese medical term that has many different meanings.
Inevitably there is a weakness in the lungs that allows a pathogen to gain a foothold. Sometimes these pathogens never completely disappear, as is the case with children who suffer from recurrent coughs & colds that are repeatedly treated with antibiotics. This in term can lead to asthma in children.
There are many types of cough and they all have diagnostic value within Chinese medicine. During an initial consultation I obtain detailed information about the nature of the cough, what makes it better, what makes it worse, what time of the day it is worse, etc, etc. I will also ask questions to find out what imbalances there may be elsewhere in the body. For example, if there is phlegm in the Lungs then there will inevitably be an imbalance in the Spleen organ in Chinese medicine. The Spleen is related to the digestive process in Western medicine. Everything is interconnected within Chinese medicine and it is rare for just one part of the body to be out of balance. When treating Lung problems, attention is often drawn to the Liver, Spleen and Kidney organs.