Lung Phlegm Cold: copious chesty mucus

Lung Phlegm Cold gives you a cough with runny watery mucus and spit, a chest that feel blocked, and a general sense of coldness and heaviness.
lung phlegm cold

Lung Phlegm Cold is a syndrome in Chinese medicine. That means it describes one of the ways people using Chinese medicine describe how your lungs behave when ill. (This syndrome is also known as ‘Cold and Phlegm in the Lungs’.)

In this case, there are aspects – as you’d expect – of Phlegm and Cold!


How do you get Lung Phlegm Cold?

To get Lung Phlegm Cold you need a background of 

  • Spleen Yang deficiency which comes from eating the wrong foods for too long (but click on the link, because there’s a lot more to it than that) and/or
  • Kidney Yang deficiency which can creep up on you as you grow old, though it’s not unknown in the young, when it’s often caused by over-exertion, lifting very heavy objects, or physical over-strain. Also by training yourself not to show you are cold. 


Then you need a trigger:

  • One or more ‘invasions’ of Cold in the form of Wind-Cold. These can go straight for your Lungs, bypassing symptoms of a normal ‘cold’. Or you may get a runny cold first.
  • Making you more susceptible to these invasions of Wind-cold would be if you were already yang deficient. How do you get that? Click the link for a fuller explanation, but repeatedly getting cold as you grow up can be part of it; over-lifting or over-straining physically, even jogging/running to near exhaustion; sports-people who over-train often become yang deficient – their heart-beat becomes naturally slower and they notice the cold more, with cold fingers and hands, and take longer to warm up than they used to.
  • Too much cold food or liquid. That includes foods that are cold to the touch or freezing when you eat them (eg sorbets and ice-creams, also drinks with ice in them) but also foods that are classified as having a cooling action on your body, whether they are cold to the touch when eaten, or not. How much is too much? Well, you’ve eaten too much when you start getting symptoms of ColdPhlegm, or Lung Phelgm Cold!
  • You make yourself a little more susceptible to Lung Phlegm Cold if you go cycling in cold weather. After a while you’ll probably notice water dripping from your nose and rather loose, runny phlegm in your throat or lungs, which you’ll want to hawk up and spit out. If you don’t, it blocks your voice.


…  and Food!

  • The most common food culprits, at least for many ‘Westerners’ with Lung Phlegm Cold, are dairy foods, raw or chilled foods and drinks. Your body uses up energy warming these up to digest them: consequently unless the food, via your digestion, quickly provides more calories than it uses, you will cool down and become susceptible to Cold and Phlegm Cold. This could happen even if, theoretically at least, the food contains enough calories to warm you, but because your digestion is slow (ie yang deficient) it can’t absorb and use them fast enough. The coldness in the food makes you get too cold to be able to absorb and burn the calories. 

As an analogy, think of what happens when you pour cold water onto a fire. If the fire is strong and has enough fuel and oxygen, you’ll get steam. If the fire is small and weak, you’ll put it out!


Symptoms of Lung Phlegm Cold

  • Wet cough: lots of expectoration which is runny and either white or colourless. Getting the phlegm up and out helps the cough, but only temporarily because more accumulates. (Note, sometimes if there is a little heat around, for example after sleep, the phlegm may have a slight yellow tinge, but usually it’s white or watery.)
  • Feeling cold and heavy; you find it hard to warm up
  • Cold hands. With Lung Phlegm Cold, theoretically it will be your thumbs and forefingers that get coldest.
  • Chest can feel blocked and heavy
  • Chest feels cold
  • Phlegm in your throat: constant need to hawk it up and clear your voice before speaking
  • Head can feel blocked and ‘foggy’
  • Sometimes dizziness
  • Thinking is an effort
  • Urine is clear, transparent, except sometimes first thing after sleep
  • If the condition has spread to the Large Intestine you may get runny stools, lacking much odour
  • Pulse: slower than usual, and slippery. (In someone susceptible to this, the pulse can get very slow, to the point where you, the patient, get quite worried. As you get better, it will speed up, but you need to keep warm.)
  • Tongue: very moist and swollen body, with a white coating that is often called ‘sticky'(: technical term!)
  • You will like warmth, especially warmth on your chest, for instance a warm bean-bag or hot-water bottle on it at night. Try putting the hot bean-bag on your epigastrium (the part of your abdomen below your ribs but above your belly-button) too: shift it around until you find the best spot. But be careful! Don’t burn yourself!

What happens next?

If Lung Phlegm Cold persists, it can itself aggravate or cause other conditions like Stomach and Spleen deficiency. It can, surprisingly, in old people block things up so much that they develop Lung Dryness.

When Phlegm accumulates, it can produce or worsen Blood Stasis. However, usually this happens only to patients whose energy is already low, perhaps from other diseases, or because they are old.

What treatments help Lung Phlegm Cold?

  • This is Chinese medicine so don’t expect Western medicine!
  • There are Chinese herbal formulae that can be very effective, but even with these, you need to persist. If you are already taking Western medicines for other conditions, your practitioner may be very cautious about suggesting Chinese herbs, in case there is interference. (Though interference is rare, and many of its circumstances are known. The trouble is, should something go wrong, someone usually blames the herbs!)
  • Acupuncture, with the use of Moxibustion, can make a huge difference, but you need regular treatments, close together.
  • Vigorous massage on your back can be stimulating. But not too strong! Yours is a deficient condition with a full yin problem: a mixture of excess and deficiency.
  • When the Coldness has gone, and you are left with just phlegm continuing in the Lungs, I have found the appropriate homoeopathic remedy very effective. This seems to work well with old people. You’ll need to see a homoeopath for this.


What can YOU do to help yourself?

  • Keep warm, wear lots, and don’t let your body, especially your chest, get cold.
  • Avoid wet, cold, damp weather if you can.


Ginger root tea
Ginger tea
  • Sip hot water with ginger slices steeped in it. (Ginger is warming and assists your Spleen energy.) If you have to give a talk, keep a hot ‘ginger’ drink near you, to sip.
  • Eat and drink warm foods/liquids, not cold
  • Add ginger slices to soups and stews.
  • Avoid raw, cold, frozen or iced foods or drinks, and dairy food. (Avoid even yoghurt, reckoned by many to be ‘good for you’. But in Chinese medicine it is considered to have a cold energy. Besides, dairy foods often increase mucus/phlegm.)
  • Most nutritional supplements take energy to digest. Your energy, ie your Stomach and Spleen Qi, is low, and you have a Cold condition, so you won’t digest your supplements well. Take advice, but mine is usually to avoid them until you recover. Chinese herbal formulae, taken warm, are a different matter entirely and the right ones will help your condition.
  • You need warming foods and drinks. Hearty vegetable stews (especially with ginger) are good.
  • Avoid foods with cold energy. (Did I mention this?)
  • Try a sauna, but not one in which there is much steam. (Very steamy is Damp-forming. Too much Damp can increase Phlegm.) Don’t be tempted to stay in it for too long, no matter how wonderful it feels. Why? Because the dry heat is drying and could damage your lungs, producing, perversely, Lung Dryness. So a sauna, depending on the amount of steam, can increase either Damp or Dryness. Confused? OK. Either forget the sauna or stay in it only until you feel warm again.
  • Read my book: “Yuck! Phlegm!” which explains which treatments work! Check here for Reviews of the book.

Sport and Lung Phlegm Cold

  • Avoid swimming and sports where you are exposed to damp or cold, or worse, that make you get cold. Likewise, avoid standing still outside in cold weather or a cold wind. If you must be out in cold weather, wrap up well and keep moving so that you generate heat from the exercise.
  • Because cold outdoor air may increase lung phlegm-cold, take exercise indoors. The best ones are probably those where you get out of breath and enjoy it. Badminton, for example?
  • No cold showers until you are better.
  • A short, hot bath, to warm you up, is good.
  • Try to avoid talking or shouting. (You probably can’t talk for long anyway without having to clear your throat.)
  • Get plenty of rest and lots of sleep. Both are needed to help your Lung energy recover.
  • Long-term: if you are susceptible to Lung Phlegm Cold, you need to pay special attention to helping your Spleen energy remain in good condition. For this, avoid not only cold and raw foods but also sweet foods, or foods that quickly turn to sugar in your digestion. You’ll also benefit from herbs that strengthen your Yang energy, but don’t self-diagnose: see someone who knows about this!


Jonathan Brand colours

Stay in Touch!

No spam, only notifications about new articles and updates.

The latest books
Book a Consultation
Book Consultation
Acupuncture consultation

Book a Video consultation if you want to know more about your symptoms

Related Articles

photo of person showing silver-colored ring
Causes of disease

Knee Pain

Knee pain has five main causes. It’s certainly worth trying acupuncture before you resort to surgery!

Read More »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *