Common Cold/Influenza

By Jiang Liu, Diplomate of Oriental Medicine
AR Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist
Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Clinic
2024 Arkansas Valley Dr., Suite 402
Little Rock, AR 72212

The common cold (cold) and the influenza (flu) are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, or cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

Common cold can be caused by a number of different types of viruses. More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold. Because so many different viruses can cause cold and new cold viruses constantly develop, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a frequent and recurring problem.

Flu, also referred to as seasonal flu, is a highly contagious illness caused by the influenza virus. Anyone can get the flu as it is spread easily from person to person, usually when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus may belong to one of three different influenza virus fami¬lies: A, B or C. In addition to seasonal flu, there are two other flu viruses receiving extra attention around the globe today: Novel 2009 H1N1 Influenza Virus and Avian Flu (H5N1).

Conventional treatment
Antibiotics are not effective against the viruses that cause the cold and flu. There are no approved antiviral drugs for the common cold. At this time, two antiviral drugs are available for flu: oseltamivir and zanamivir. These two drugs have been shown to reduce flu symptoms if started within a day or two of getting sick. Anti-viral medicine is recommended for people with more severe illness and at higher risk for complications.

The treatment is directed at alleviating the symptoms associated with the common cold. Over-the-counter medications such as throat lozenges, throat sprays, cough drops, and cough syrups may help bring relief. Decongestants may be used for nasal symptoms. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) and ibuprofen (Advil and others) can help with fever, sore throat, and body aches.

Chinese medicine
Exogenous pathogenic factors are the main causes of cold/flu. Most common types are wind-cold and wind-heat, in addition, the summer heat, dampness and dryness evils can also joint wind to cause illnesses. However, whether or not those exogenous pathogenic factors cause the diseases depends intimately on the strength or weakness of the body’s defensive system. If body’s defensive system is weak, exogenous pathogenic factors attack the body easily. An improper lifestyle or excessive fatigue can cause laxity of the interstitial spaces and dissipation of defensive ability. In such circumstances an exogenous evil can attach the skin, hair, the lung or the defensive system and result in injury. Furthermore, differences in the body’s constitution are associated with different susceptibilities. For example, wind-cold can easily exploit yang deficiency; wind-heat or dryness heat can easily exploit yin deficiency; and exogenous dampness can easily complicate a body with much phlegm and endogenous dampness. The route of attack from exogenous pathogenic factors is the lung system and exterior defensive system. And the location of the illness is generally also limited to the lung-defensive level. If the defensive yang is constrained by any factor, there may be disharmony between nutritive qi and defensive qi. The struggle between evil qi and genuine qi can generate such symptoms of defensive level or the exterior such as cold-aversion and fever. When an exogenous evil attacks the lung, the air passage becomes blocked. Lung qi can not rise and clarify the body properly, giving rise to cough and nasal mucosal congestion. Flu, because it is a more serious attach by the exogenous evil, has more severe symptoms, and can manifest high fever and delirium. If the patient’s constitution or defensive system is strong, the exogenous pathogenic factors are confined to the lung-defensive level and illness is mild, with mainly symptoms of the exterior. But if the patient is elderly, or has a weak constitution, or weak defensive system, the exogenous pathogenic factors can migrate from the exterior to the interior, which will aggravate the illness and may lead to complications.

Chinese medicine treatment for cold/flu includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, and some other modalities such as acupressure, moxibustion, Tuina, gwasha. The choice of treatment modality depends completely on the diagnosis and individual constitution. There are a large number of classical and modern herbal formulas used for the treatment of common cold/flu. It sounds that common colds are easily treated with over-the-counter herbal preparations. However, since there are different types of common cold/flu, the most important aspect is differentiating different types of cold/flu. Therefore, seeking the guidance of an experienced Chinese Medicine practitioner is very important, which will help you to properly diagnose your condition, choose proper treatment modality or proper herbal formula, helping to shorten the duration and severity of the condition, as well as preventing future colds/flu.

Classification and treatment principle
A. Wind-cold

  • Symptoms: An aversion to coldness, shivering, low or no fever, chills predominated over feelings of heat, no sweat, occipital headache, stiff neck, body aches, slight cough, sneezing, and running nose with discharge
  • Tongue: Thin white coating or normal
  • Pulse: Floating and tight or floating and slow
  • Treatment principle:
    • Expel the wind
    • Disperse the cold
    • Restore the lung qi

B. Wind-heat

  • Symptoms: Fever and chills with fever predominating, slight sweating, runny nose with yellow discharge, headaches, body aches, cough, sore throat, and slight thirst
  • Tongue: Red on the edge
  • Pulse: Floating and fast
  • Treatment principle:
    • Expel the wind-heat
    • Release the superficial symptoms
    • Restore the descending and dispersing function of the lung qi

C. Wind-dry

  • Symptoms: Aversion to cold, fever, slightly sweating, dryness of nose, mouth or throat, and dry cough
  • Tongue: Dry, slightly red in the areas of lung and heart
  • Pulse: Floating
  • Treatment principle:
    • Release the superficial
    • Expel wind
    • Restore the descending and dispersing function of the lung qi
    • Tonify body fluids

D. Summer-dampness

  • Symptoms: Fever, anhidrosis, mild chilliness, heavy and painful sensation over the limbs, headache, dizziness, thirst and desire for a little drink, oppressive feeling over the chest, vomiting, and nausea
  • Tongue: Yellow and greasy tongue coating
  • Pulse: Rapid, soft floating
  • Treatment principle:
    • Dispel summer-heat evil from the superficial.
    • Eliminate dampness with drugs of fragrant

E. Exterior-cold and interior-heat

  • Symptoms: Fever, aversion to cold, anhidrosis, general aching, headache, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, and sticky sputum with yellow or white color
  • Tongue: Red on the edge of tongue, thin and white or thin and yellow coating
  • Pulse: Floating and rapid
  • Treatment principle:
    • Disperse the wind
    • Activate lung
    • Liberate superficial body
    • Eliminate heat

F. qi deficiency

  • Symptoms: Fever, anhidrosis, tiredness, cough, and coughing sputum without strength
  • Tongue: Light-white coat
  • Pulse: Floating and superficial without strength
  • Treatment principle:
    • Tonify qi
    • Dispel the superficial evil

G. Blood deficiency

  • Symptoms: hot body, fever, headache, anhidrosis or slight perspiration, pale complexion, lips and nails, palpation, and dizziness
  • Tongue: Light colored tongue with white coat
  • Pulse: Thin, superficial without strength, or knot/belt
  • Treatment principle:
    • Tonify blood
    • Dispel the superficial evil

H. yin deficiency

  • Symptoms: Hot body, fever, aversion to wind and cold, slight perspiration, dizziness, restless and disquieted, dry month, and dry cough with scanty sputum
  • Tongue: Red with scanty coat
  • Pulse: Thin and rapid
  • Treatment principle:
    • Tonify yin
    • Dispel the superficial evil

I. yang deficiency

  • Symptoms: Aversion of coldness from time to time, even chilling with or without fever, anhidrosis or self-sweating, headache, sore and cold bone joints, pale face, low voice, and cold limbs
  • Tongue: Corpulent-pale tongue and white coat
  • Pulse: Heavy, thin without strength
  • Treatment principle:
    • Warm yang
    • Dispel the superficial evil