Winter in Brisbane – Dealing with Common Cold and Flu in Chinese Medicine

Winter in Brisbane – Dealing with Common Cold and Flu in Chinese Medicine

25 May 2015 by Caitlin Armit

In Brisbane we are often blessed with a winter of blue skies, sunshine and crisp air. Unfortunately, whether you have had a flu shot or not, many of us will experience some symptoms of a cold or flu in the coming months.

The Reality

We’re all familiar with the miserable symptoms of winter illness: blocked sinus, runny nose, sore throat, stiff neck, cough, fever and chills, headaches, and fatigue. Sometimes it lasts a day or two, other times it lasts for weeks. Chinese Medicine doesn’t support the popular approach of ‘soldier on’ because your body needs rest for the immune system to do it’s job properly. We understand that getting better faster allows you to return to work and normal activities and reduces the likelihood of spreading your illness to other people.

Cold and Flu in Chinese Medicine

The origins of Chinese Medicine are from a time where people noted their observations of the elements and cycles of nature and likened these patterns to bodily structures and functions. Though the terminology used to describe cold and flu diagnoses in Chinese medicine may sound overly simplistic to a westerner the disease aetiology and pathogenesis has been refined over thousands of years.

In Western medicine, we talk about bacteria and germs in the air and on surfaces as the main way that colds spread from one person to another when our immune system is low. In Chinese medicine, we talk about pathogens ‘cold’, ‘wind’, ‘heat’ or ‘damp’ invading susceptible channels of the body when we are deficient in qi / energy. Both approaches recognise that our bodies respond to our external environment and both acknowledge that under normal circumstances our bodies should be strong enough to withstand the elements. Perhaps there was a sudden change in temperature, or you slept with a window open above your head at night or left the house with wet hair, or maybe the wind picked up unexpectedly and you didn’t have a jacket to cover yourself. There’s a chance that you’ve been working long hours and not exercising or eating healthy food. For some people, you may also have a constitutional tendency to contract every cold and bug that circulates your office.

In addition to observing the symptoms mentioned earlier, Acupuncturists use other diagnostic tools such as tongue diagnosis, pulse diagnosis and palpation techniques, to help us pinpoint the dominant pathogens in your body. This is because signs of ‘heat’ or ‘cold’ manifest in many more ways that simply your body temperature. The most common diagnoses for acute cold and flu symptoms are ‘Wind Heat’ or ‘Wind Cold’.

What to do!

The aim of treatment is to give symptomatic relief and to utilise your body’s own natural healing ability by stimulating the immune system.

In addition to seeing your acupuncturist, take note of the following tips & tricks:

  • Wear a scarf around your neck, clothing which completely covers your chest and back, and avoid being in the wind. Fresh air is still important (avoid air conditioning) but rug up if you go outside.
  • Eat plenty of nutritious soups and avoid caffeine and sugar
  • Stay hydrated but avoid icy cold drinks
  • Get plenty of rest – this is the time to go to bed early and allow yourself plenty of quiet time.
  • Self massage on Yintang, the space between the eyebrows, and along the ridge of your brow bone to relieve sinus congestion and headaches. Also massage the highest point of muscle in between your thumb and index finger several times a day. This may be tender when you’re unwell but it’s worth persisting with the pressure.
  • If you present with more cold symptoms than heat, keep yourself warm enough to induce a mild sweat overnight and enjoy a soup or stew with warming ingredients – beef, cloves, garlic, onion, mild spice. Cinnamon tea is also a winner in this instance.
  • If you present with more heat symptoms (sore throat, fever, enlarged tonsils, thick yellow sputum) than cold, don’t indulge in cold temperature foods. Peppermint or Chrysanthemum tea are both cool in nature but warm in temperature and provide the balance your body needs to relieve your symptoms and expel the pathogen.


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