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From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the common cold manifests due to the relative strength of a pathogen, verses the strength of our Defensive Qi.

The main function of Defensive qi, or Wei qi in Chinese, is to defend and protect our bodies from external pathogenic factors, which include Wind, Cold, Heat and Dampness. It flows beneath the skin and outside of the meridians or channels and is controlled by the Lungs.

The main cause of the common cold is Wind, which can also combine with seasonal pathogenic factors to form Wind-Cold, Wind-Heat and Wind-Dampness. 

Wind enters via the skin and most often at the back of the neck; this is one reason you often experience a sore or aching neck at the start of a cold. 

When the Defensive Qi is strong, it protects the body from invading exterior pathogenic factors; when it is weak, it is unable to defend adequately and pathogenic factors invade the body. 

For those who suffer from recurrent colds, the cause is usually weak Lung Qi, leading to weak Defensive Qi resulting in an inability to protect the body against external pathogenic factors. 

The weakness your body is experiencing at the time you contract a cold impacts how a cold manifests in your body:

  • if you are yang deficient (cold), you will be more susceptible to Wind-Cold
    • symptoms may include cough, aversion to cold, sneezing, runny nose, white watery mucous, sore/aching back of the neck, fever but with a lack of thirst and/or sweating
  • if you are yin-deficient (heat) you will be more susceptible to Wind-Heat;
    • symptoms may include fever with slight sweating, itchy/sore throat, sneezing coughing, runny nose, yellowish mucous, sore/aching back of the neck, aversion to cold.

Natural Treatment

From a Chinese Medicine Perspective, there are various ways to treat a common cold, both in the acute stages and for those who have recurring episodes.

Acupuncture treatment helps to strengthen the Lungs and the Defensive Qi which helps protect against pathogenic factors. It also helps to expel pathogens from the body, relieving symptoms. Acupuncture can assist with both acute and chronic or recurring colds. 

Herbal teas can also help to relive the symptoms of a cold. My Lung Tonic is a great natural remedy and is easy to make; whenever I feel I’m coming down with a cold, I make a large pot of this tea and drink it all day long. 

A easy and natural recipe to treat Wind-Cold is to use some finely chopped spring onions to make a tea – just add to hot water and let sit for a few minutes –  or as a garnish on your meals. One of the qualities of spring onions is that they help to remove external pathogenic factors from your system. Peppermint relieves heat symptoms and is thus useful if you experience Wind-Heat symptoms as above. 

Chinese herbal formulas can also be very beneficial to treat colds. I often recommend SuperSinex, a practitoner-only product which has been designed to support recovery from the common cold. It also helps to clear damp from the system, relieving sinus conditions.

Gentle breathing exercises like Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Pranayama also strengthens the lungs and therefore the Defensive Qi. For those who experience the common cold on a recurring basis, Tai Qi and Qi Gong should form part of your ongoing health regime.