Chinese Medicine and Common Colds

Cold, Flu, Sinus infections, Pneumonia, and More!

Above: Batman educates Robin with an aggressive slap. Although Batman is correct that upwards of 90% of common colds are viral, we don't condone this type of educational method.

Jokes aside, there are significant misunderstandings around upper respiratory infections and modern medical theory and practice. In this article you'll learn about Chinese Medicine practices that can keep you well, AND save you 15% or more on your health expenses.


Common colds are nothing to worry about.

In many cases, this is accurate. For most people a cold might make us feel crappy for a week and then everything goes back to normal. But not always! A common cold can turn easily turn into a serious infection and land us in the hospital. I have seen quite a number of people 3-6 months in to what started as a common cold and now they can't kick. I've had patients that have come in after 6 months of antibiotics and $10,000 out of pocket expenses, and had them feeling back to normal in 2 weeks of Chinese herbal treatment.

Today most of us take for granted that infectious disease was the leading cause of death for, approximately, the last 2,000 years. Maybe more. Antibiotic medicines are amazing and life-saving drugs, but they are often mis-used or simply don't work for many types of infections.

Infectious disease and Auto-immune disease

There is a growing theory that many auto-immune diseases begin with infections. Normally the body's immune system responds to an infection, immune cells destroy the invader, life goes back to normal. But what if the immune system can't find and destroy the infection? The immune system knows something is wrong, but sometimes it can't identify and destroy the invader. This is where it can potentially go hay-wire and start attacking other cells in the body. Many cases of Hashimoto's have been attributed to chronic Lyme infection or other parasitic diseases. Some auto-immune conditions, like psoriasis and Guillain-Barre syndrome can be kicked off by simple upper respiratory infections.

Cold exposure has no impact on getting sick.

Most people I talk to think that the idea that cold exposure can cause us to get sick is an "old wives' tale." Really? Why on earth do you think we call it: catching a cold! The microscopic lens orientation of Western medicine often leads to throwing common sense, logic, and rationale out the window. Losing the forest for the leaves, so to speak. Let me explain.

Ok so when you have a common cold, you are experiencing an immune response to a virus, a rhinovirus to be specific. So we generally understand that immune reaction to the virus is what is causing the cold symptoms. And we ignore all other factors involved. Let's take a step back.

Right now, you have trillions of rhinoviruses inside your nose and throat. You are like any normal, healthy individual. Your average body temperature is 98.6 degrees F. Yet you show no signs of a common cold despite the trillions of common cold causing rhinoviruses living in your airways. This is because your immune system keeps them in check.

Well check this out. A rhinovirus can't reproduce well at 98.6 degrees F. But at 96.5 degrees, the rhinovirus's proliferation increases exponentially. A drop in body temperature of 1-2 degrees constitutes "catching a chill" and will often lead to: a) proliferation of rhinovirus population b) immune activation to fight rhinovirus infection c) now you have a cold. And get this! Your core body temperature doesn't even have to drop 1-2 degrees. If even just the temperature in your head, nose, throat drops then this rhinovirus proliferation will take place.

This understanding can be applied to all types of upper respiratory infections, not just rhinoviruses. Cold exposure is a stress to the body. Any significant stress results in immune function being suppressed. Overwork, poor diet, sleep deprivation: all of these factors and more impact your immune systems ability to overcome infection. So you can blame the virus, but that's not going to help you a great deal.

Understanding the big picture can help you get well faster and prevent future infections. It's also how we use Chinese Medicine to effectively treat upper respiratory infections, often faster and at a fraction of the cost of Western medicine treatment.

So then, what about Wim Hoff aka "the Iceman?" Sometimes people ask about this. If you aren't familiar, Wim Hoff holds the world record for cold exposure and a number of other impressive feats like climbing Mt. Everest in shorts and a t-shirt. It's simple. It's not that cold exposure is bad. It's getting cold that will create problems. Wim Hoff's body temperature doesn't drop when he is exposed to cold. That's why he doesn't get sick. So if you can keep your body temperature normal while out in the cold, no problem. But for most people who aren't willing to study Shaolin martial arts or the Iceman methods, the simple solution is wearing warm clothes, hats and scarves.

I tried Chinese Medicine for a cold and it didn't work.

Most times when people say this they mean that they tried Chinese herbal patents like Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling pills. Other times they went to a Chinese Medicine specialist and didn't get results. There are two fundamental components that need be fulfilled in order for treatment of any kind to work.

1) The diagnosis has to be correct and 2) the corresponding treatment method has to be applied.

In the case of Chinese Herbal Medicine, the most often failures result from 1) incorrect diagnosis and 2) failure to use adequate dosage of high quality herbs.

Diagnosis: In Medicine as a whole, diagnosis is always a challenge. The odds are against a Doctor or Chinese Medicine practitioner being correct. That said, I have found that practitioners studied in Classical Chinese Medicine tend to get consistently good results with infectious illnesses.

Also note that diagnosis in Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine do not mean the same thing exactly. In Chinese Medicine the diagnosis always indicates an understanding of the pathology and leads to one specific treatment method for that diagnosis. In Western medicine the diagnosis often is a categorization of a disease process, and does not necessarily indicate understanding of pathology or specific treatment.

Dosage and Herb Quality: Predisone is a drug that is typically prescribed at a dose range between 5-30 mg per day. Your doctor would not prescribe you 0.2 mg per day and expect the same effect as 10 mg per day. So take a 0.2 mg Predisone pill, leave it in a hot car for 1 year, and then how effective do you think that will be? That's about how effective I expect most Chinese herbal patent medicines to be.

In my practice I use traditional dosages, and the highest quality organic and lab-tested Chinese herbs available on the market. Many of our classical formulas are derived from the Shang Han Lun, a book recorded in the Han Dynasty around 200 AD. Most traditional formula dosages range from 50-100 grams of raw herbs per day. These are the formulas that have been found to be effective and have been applied clinically for around 2,000 years. How anyone is thinking that reducing the dosage to 0.5-2 grams/day is going to work is beyond me. Yet that is the dosage that you are getting with over the counter tea-pills.

Can Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling pills work? Certainly they can work. If the patient's condition fits those formulas exactly, then even a small dosage can work. But I wouldn't expect it to. In my practice I have never prescribed Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling pills. Most of the time they are not the correct treatment for common colds and flus.

Antibiotics for Sinus Infections

Sinus infections can be a long and nasty roller coaster ride. Often people are driven to antibiotics again and again only to have the infection come back again. This is a story I know very well personally. When I was 20 I moved into a beach-side college student house that had black mold literally coating the walls at times. It took me years of trying saline rinses and over the counter medicines before I found Chinese Medicine treatment that worked and set me free from the cycle of sinus headaches, colds, and sinus infections.

If you want to be free of sinus infections, the first step to take is: get off the antibiotic merry go round. Why? Modern research from the Mayo Clinic has shown that 96% of patients with chronic rhinosinusitis (chronic sinus infections) are dealing with infections not from bacteria but from fungus. This condition is known as chronic eosinophilic rhinosinusitis. What does this mean?

It means that 96% of people with chronic sinusitis have at one time or another been exposed to some fungal infection of the sinuses. Whether this is active or in the past, the eosinophils (the immune cells responsible for attacking pathogenic fungal organisms) begin to react to ANY fungal organism, including normal, non-pathogenic fungal spores in the air and yeast cells that colonize human tissues. So the eosinophils react to non-harmful airborne particles, and they start a battle in your nose and sinuses. In an effort to protect you, they end up causing all kinds of swelling and inflammation of the tissue. This blocks up your sinuses and airways. This can easily lead to your mucous stagnating and breeding a bacterial or viral infection.

But the main thing it means is that antibiotics will not fix it. And it most cases antibiotics will make the situation worse, and predispose people to getting more future infections. The antibiotics end up weakening your body's natural microbial flora, and contribute to this abnormal immune response.

Sinus Treatment Tips

I will list some general immune support tips below, but these are specific to sinus health.

Reduce sugar and dairy in the diet. I know, that's the least fun advice. But due to the likelihood of fungal infection (past or present), reducing sugar and dairy in the diet will help. Fungus like things wet and moist, and their main food is carbohydrates like sugars. This includes fruit, juice, all sugars natural or otherwise.

Support your microbiome with cultured foods and probiotics. Use a high count probiotic or live, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and miso soup.

Sinus steams and Saline rinses. Neti pots are all the rage these days. And don't get me wrong, a good saline rinse can help many people. But if done wrong, you can make things worse.

Net Pot 101

1) Use the proper balance of saline and alkalinity. If you use water with the wrong salinity or pH, you will irritate tissues more.

2) Use warm temperature, distilled or previously boiled water. I know, it's inconvenient. But so is an amoeba from your local water supply living in your brain. Rare, but it can happen.

3) Don't tilt your head too far down. Use a gentle incline to get saline water into your nose. If you lower your head too much, or blow water through the nose with force, you can force water into your Eustachian tubes and cause more congestion than you had before.

Sinus Steams.

Pour boiling water into a pot, add a small amount of Eucalyptus oil, or a sinus steam herbal tea blend. Drape your head with a towel, and gently inhale the steam. Be mindful that inhaling steam when too hot can burn or irritate your mucous membranes. Do not use excessive amounts of essential oils, as this can also irritate your Lungs.

Chinese Herbal Medicine. If you are someone who suffers from chronic sinus infections, often home treatment will not be enough to get you off the roller coaster of headaches. We can use targeted herbal medicine treatment to clear up your head and support your immune function so the infections don't come back.


Stay warm. I said it before but it bears repeating. Bundle up when it's cold out. Wear a hat and scarf to keep your upper airway warm. Dry your hair before going to sleep or going outside in the cold. Wet hair causes evaporative cooling which can easily reduce your body temperature by 1-2 degrees.

Catch a chill? Get on it fast. The best way to prevent a cold is to treat it before it starts. It often starts with that time you got chilled for 30 minutes and forgot about it. 3 days later you get sick and don't associate the two things. After the chill, take a hot bath. Slice up 9-15 grams of fresh ginger and simmer it in a pot of water for 15 minutes. Drink the water, bundle up and generate a slight sweat. Make sure you feel all the way warm again after sweating.

Chicken soup. There is a reason this home remedy has been a go-to for people around the world in all different cultures. It works. Make soup with chicken parts that have bones in them. Either a whole chicken or bone-in breasts work well. Important immune factors are extracted from the marrow of the bones which support your immune function. Add fresh ginger, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms to make your soup even better.

Get treatment sooner than later. Most people don't like spending money on a common cold. If you are the type of person that's sick for 3-4 days and then you're better, I'd agree with you. But if you are a person where a sickness can easily turn into a sinus infection or pneumonia, then the cost of an office visit and a week or two of herbs will be far less than medications, missed work, and doctor visits.

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