I want to preface this blog post with a disclaimer: I believe that Western medicine is the best in the world for diagnostics and emergency medical treatment. As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, we have our own diagnostic tools, but we don’t take x-rays, blood work, CT scans, and other measures that could prove life-saving. I often tell my patients that the best healthcare is a combination of Eastern and Western medicine. Western medicine usually works faster than herbal medicine, but can come with side effects. In emergency medicine, faster is going to be better. Chronic conditions and non-emergency acute health issues can be treated with TCM without the side effects of Western medications. There are always trade-offs in life!
With that said, I wanted to share a recent self-healing process. An unusual circumstance occurred for me this past month. I developed a tickle in my throat, which by itself is not that unusual. I’ve had to clear my throat of phlegm, mainly in the morning, most of my life. But this need to clear my throat was going on for three days.
The frequent throat clearing moved to a light cough, like my bronchioles were being tickled. I wasn’t sure what to make of it because I had no other symptoms. I tested negative for Covid three days in a row and I had no runny nose or congestion. I felt fine other than a light, dry cough.
A few days later, the cough became productive and I could see the color of phlegm getting darker. I thought to myself, “Well, this looks like it’s turning into an infection.” I decided to start on some strong antibiotic Chinese herbs to clear up what in TCM is considered heat in the lungs (or infection). I took those herbs for about four days and the color lightened until it became clear.
But the cough persisted with light-colored mucus. I then changed formulas to dry the damp in the lungs and promote the movement of Lung Qi downward (instead of upward which causes coughing). I took those herbs for about 5-6 days and the phlegm cleared up significantly. That left me with an occasional alternating dry and slightly wet cough that was more reactive to laughing or talking too much. At that point, I needed to change the formula to strengthen my lungs, direct Qi downward, and continue to dislodge and dry the residual phlegm.
The last symptom after everything else cleared up was losing my voice for a few days. Again, I took some herbs and rested my voice. I am now symptom-free two weeks after the initial onset of symptoms. The beauty of herbal treatment is its specificity – I was able to treat each specific symptom as it presented and update my herbal regimen as my symptoms changed, keeping me in tune with my body and leaving me free of side effects like drowsiness that sometimes come with more cure-all cold medicines.
The take-home message is that Chinese medicine can directly treat symptoms that, over time, can resolve internal medicine issues. But there are of course situations that would be best handled by seeing your primary care doctor. I was completely ready to see my primary care doctor if there was no improvement in color and amount of phlegm, or intensity and frequency of cough. I was seeing improvement in each of those issues, but acknowledge it likely took longer to resolve than it might have with antibiotics, an inhaler, or possibly steroids and an x-ray. For me personally, I prefer to use those measures in more severe circumstances.
We have wonderful formulas at our disposal to treat viruses and seasonal allergies. Acupuncture in combination with herbs can be even more effective. It’s always good to know you have options in life! Chinese medicine is not only effective for pain, but wonderful for non-emergency acute and/or chronic health issues as well.