Cold/Flu: a very common condition of upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms include: headache, sneezing, chills/fever, congestion, fatigue, bodyache, etc…..

Upper respiratory infections affect a large number of people per year in the US, and 2-3 infections per year are considered normal. Over xxxxx work days are lost to this condition, and it is generally considered the most common illness from which we suffer.

In Oriental Medicine, the onset of a cold or flu is seen as the invasion of an external pathological evil into the body. The medical theories, developed over 2000 years ago, describe this very common condition (upper respiratory infection) in poetic language based on keen observation of the human body and the processes of nature. There are six evils generally considered:

·         Wind is the predominant evil in a person feeling the first symptoms of a cold or flu. Wind is light and airy; it attacks the upper part of the body (the head, skin, and lungs), moves easily from person to person, and helps other evils gain access to the body.

Either Cold or Heat almost always accompanies Wind, and distinguishing which one predominates is critical to effective treatment. Fortunately, this is relatively easy.

·         In a Wind Cold, the patient feels more chills than fever and may have copious, thin, clear or white mucus, with little thirst.

·         In Wind Heat, the patient tends to feel more hot or feverish, and have thicker, yellow mucus, and is thirsty.

The situation becomes a little trickier because these conditions, particularly when left untreated, may transform into each other. For instance, a Wind Cold, as it moves deeper into the body becoming a more serious condition, often begins showing signs of Heat. Other evils that combine with Wind include:

·         Dryness - a dry, non-productive cough; more common in autumn months or in the desert.

·         Damp - symptoms tend to linger with more phlegm; more common in rainy or foggy climates.

·         Summer Heat - may include symptoms of a “stomach flu,” such as nausea and vomiting; traditionally considered more common in the summer from hot weather and poor diet.

While Western medicine is limited in what it can do to treat colds and flu, Oriental medicine can be very effective. In addition to treating the symptoms, it can prevent illness by strengthening the body’s immune system, or protective energy, thereby  reducing the duration of a cold or flu while increasing resistance to future illness.

We are all constantly exposed to "Evil Wind" and to people carrying cold and flu germs. However, exposure is not the only factor that determines whether we will get sick or not, or whether or not the symptoms will be severe and enduring. Other factors include one's basic constitution, lifestyle, diet, age, stress level, and emotional state at the time of exposure. It is in addressing these factors that Oriental Medicine can be especially effective.

Each person has a different constitution and treatments are individualized accordingly. Counseling on lifestyle and diet can also be very important to long-term health and resistance to future illness. Oriental medicine treats the whole person and is very effective in reducing stress, balancing emotional states, and invigorating energy levels as one ages.

For a person who frequently “catches colds”, a course of acupuncture and herbal treatments to strengthen resistance and improve energy can greatly enhance the patient’s immunity, as well as overall quality of life and general productivity.

A patient coming into an acupuncture office experiencing the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection  (URI) would be treated, in most cases, with both acupuncture and herbs. Generally speaking, acupuncture is very helpful in relieving the fatigue, stuffiness, and aches and pains associated with a URI. Three to eight days of herbs are extremely helpful in reducing symptoms and eliminating the illness. The specific herbal formulation is determined by the patient’s symptoms and constitution, and is varied for each case. There are, however, two patent herbal formulas in tablet form most often recommended for the home medicine kit. They are available at many health food stores. The first is Yin Qiao San, which should be taken regularly at the first sign of a cold, especially if there is a sore throat. The second is Gan Mao Ling, which is also quite effective if taken at the first signs of a URI or the flu. While Oriental Medicine alone can treat symptoms of colds or the flu quite effectively, other recommendations, such as vitamin C, zinc tablets, and adequate rest when possible, may also be made.

With acupuncture and herbal treatments, a patient usually recovers twice as quickly, and is usually able to maintain a near normal schedule. If the patient does not improve within a few days, it is recommended that they see an MD to rule out a more serious illness, like pneumonia, which might require additional intervention. However, acupuncture and herbs remain extremely helpful as a complementary modality to Western treatments, such as antibiotics, in controlling symptoms and facilitating a speedier recovery.


My first experience with Oriental Medicine, which ultimately led me into this profession, occurred many years ago when I was in Taiwan . I was on an extended trip through Asia , and arrived in Taiwan exhilarated but exhausted by my travels. It was wintertime, a cold and rainy season in that area, and Taipei , where I settled, was at that time very polluted. The damp, cold, and pollution all can be classified in Chinese Medicine as external evils, and in my case, along with general fatigue from travel, they led to a series of respiratory illnesses. Fortunately, I soon made friends with a traditional Chinese doctor who began treating me with his amazing herbal packets. Every time I started to get sick, I would pick up a packet of herbs, and within a few hours of taking them, I felt great. Whatever sickness had started went away without the usual week of sniffles, fever, and fatigue, leaving me able to continue working and traveling in that amazing part of the world.