At this time of year, so many of us seem to be sniffling. The common cold is a viral infection that affects the nose and throat. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause a cold so symptoms vary a bit. It takes about 7-10 days to recover from a cold but in our experience combining the wisdom of eastern and western medicine can speed the process up considerably.
In Chinese medicine, there are many different diagnoses that cover the common cold. The diagnosis is made according to the specific signs and symptoms involved. The most common diagnoses are either an attack of wind-heat or wind-cold. The symptoms of each are as follows:
Wind-Heat. People with wind-heat will have a combination of the following symptoms. Fever and chills with more fever, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose or sinus congestion with yellow phlegm, thirst, concentrated urine, cough with yellow sputum, headache, and body aches.
You can ask us for a specific herbal recommendation. However, the most famous formula for this type of cold is Yin Qiao Jie Du Pian (Honeysuckle and Forsythia Clear-Toxin Tablets) which is particularly good if you have a sore throat or Gan Mao Ling (Cold Formula) which is my own personal favorite. You can use it to prevent a cold if everyone around you is sneezing and in my experience, if you take gan mao ling at the first sign of a cold it can make it stop before it starts. It’s also a useful formula if you don’t know what your Chinese diagnosis is because you can use it for both wind-heat and wind-cold. If you have a stuffy nose you can combine either of the formulas above with Bi Yan Pian (Nose Inflammation Pills) which is an herbal decongestant.
Wind-Cold. People with wind-cold will have a combination of the following symptoms. Fever and chills with more chills, fatigue, a desire for warmth, runny nose or sinus congestion with clear phlegm, inability to get warm, stiff neck and shoulders, and headache. You can ask us for a specific herbal recommendation. However, the most famous formula for this type of cold is Gui Zhi Tang (Cinnamon Twig Tea) which is particularly helpful if you are achy. If your main symptom is a headache due to congestion you might find Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan(Ligusticum and Green Tea Pills) useful.
Here is the advice we give to our Yinova patients who are suffering from a cold.
- Treat yourself straight away for the best results. At the first sign of a cold take the herbal formula recommended above to fit your diagnosis. Ask us for advice on choosing the right formula for your cold.
- Take a hot bath with some rosemary and eucalyptus oil and then get an early night.
- In bed wrap yourself up warmly and allow yourself to sweat a little.
- Get at least 9 hours of sleep and then rest as much as you can.
- Take zinc – there is evidence that zinc lozenges taken at the beginning of a cold may help reduce symptoms.
- Take Vitamin C. Contrary to popular belief there is no evidence that taking large doses of vitamin C can prevent you from catching a cold. However, there is some evidence that high doses of vitamin C (up to 6 grams a day) may be able to shorten the duration of a cold.
- Drink lots of fluid – As your grandmother probably taught you soup is a particularly good choice for its warming and nourishing qualities. You could also choose tea, water, and juice, which may also contain some vitamin C. Warm drinks temporarily relieve nasal congestion which can bring some relief.
- Gargle with saltwater to soothe a sore throat.
- Avoid sweets and caffeine which in Chinese medicine are said to feed the pathogen
- Stop taking your regular herbal formula. It is important to avoid tonifying herbs such as ginseng. Some people make the mistake of taking tonics at the outset of a cold thinking that they will boost the immune system. However Chinese medical theory tells us that by doing this you risk making yourself feel much worse.
- Come in for an acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture and moxibustion can provide some immediate relief from cold symptoms and help the body expel the pathogen much faster. Needles are inserted into points along with the lung and large intestine meridians. These points have been shown to activate the immune function.
- Don’t try to soldier on by doing your usual aerobic exercise routine but do wrap up well and go for a walk to get your blood circulating.
When to consult your doctor
- You should see your doctor if:
- You suffer from a high fever (over 102 F).
- You have severe sinus pain
- The sputum you are coughing up is green or blood-tinged
- You have significantly swollen glands
- Your cold lasts for more than 2 weeks
Children are prone to developing complications from a cold, such as ear infections. You should take them to the pediatrician if they have any of the following symptoms.
- High Fever of 102 F or higher.
- Fever that lasts more than three days
- Unusual sleepiness
- Persistent crying
- Difficulty breathing
- Lingering cough
- Ear pain