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Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for the Common Cold

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

In Chinese medicine, the common cold is considered to be an “invasion of wind”.  “Wind” means catching a chill or draft.  But, wind also means any pathogen that invades the body from the outside.

Typically, when you first get a head cold, your symptoms will fit predominately into one of these two patterns:

Wind Cold

  1. Headache, stiff neck, “all over” muscle aches

  2. Stuffy nose, runny nose with thin clear watery mucus

  3. Sneezing and coughing

  4. Chills (predominating) and fever

  5. Absence of sweating

Wind Heat

  1. Sore, dry, or scratchy throat

  2. Thirsty

  3. Stuffy nose or nasal discharge which is thick and yellow or green

  4. Cough with thick or sticky yellow mucus

  5. Feeling warm, maybe fever.  Mild chills or no chills

  6. Sweating

There are things you can do when you first experience signs of a cold to help prevent it from going deeper into your chest.

If you are experiencing predominantly Wind Cold symptoms, you need to warm yourself from the inside, induce a sweat, and sleep as much as possible.  The best home remedy is to finely slice a big piece of ginger root (perhaps 6” long by 2” wide).  Bring it to a boil in 6 cups of water, then reduce it to a simmer for an additional 15 minutes.  Then, turn off the heat, and add 4 teabags of green tea.  Remove the green tea bags in 2-3 minutes.  Drink a cup or two of this, then take a steamy hot shower.  Get out of the shower, go right to bed under warm covers and sleep as much as you can.  Repeat this process until you experience a nice sweat that breaks your fever and alleviates most of your symptoms.  If you have a “wind-cold” type cold, the caffeine in the green tea typically will not act as a stimulant, even if you are otherwise sensitive to caffeine.  If you have a genuine Wind Cold condition, you will feel much better after you sweat it out. 

If you are experiencing predominantly Wind Heat symptoms, there is a Chinese herbal remedy called Yin Chiao that works really well for this.  Whole Foods sells a version of it.  The brand name is Planetary Formulas.

Whenever you have signs of a cold, you should forgo eating all dairy products and refined sugars until you are well.  Dairy products aggravate phlegm conditions and refined sugars suppress your immune system—which is the last thing you want to do when you are sick.

When Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat aren’t resolved properly, they can transform into each other (typically Wind-Cold transforms into Wind-Heat).  Or, they can lodge deeper in the chest and linger there as Lung-Heat or Lung-Phlegm-Heat.

There are two other very common patterns.  The first pattern is called Qi Deficiency with External Wind.  The sufferer is typically an adult with a weak respiratory or immune system who keeps getting sick, or they never really get over their last cold, before they get another cold.  Sometimes they can’t tell if it’s allergies or a cold.  They just always feel lousy.  Typically, they have mild chills, maybe a mild fever, headache, nasal congestion, a cough with clear mucus, a recurrent mild sore throat, swollen glands, fatigue, lethargy and weakness.

Another very common pattern is called Wind Cold with Interior Heat.  This pattern is common in children and in young robust adults.  They get severe cold symptoms: high fever, severe chills, a loud cough with sticky yellow mucus, no sweat, severe sore throat, stuffed nose, headache and body aches, very thirsty and irritable. 

There are excellent, targeted Chinese herbal formulas for all of these patterns.  Some of my patients with children purchase these formulas from me to have on hand when their kids get sick.  Pleasant tasting versions of classic Chinese cold and flu formulas are now available in “kid versions”.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective both for expelling early stage colds and for getting rid of recalcitrant phlegm due to colds that have lodged deeper in the chest and overstayed their welcome.  Acupuncture and moxabustion are also very effective in preventing colds, and for strengthening the body’s vital energy after a bout of pneumonia or flu in order to prevent recurrences.

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