Can acupuncture help the common cold and flu viruses?

by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

There are several weeks to months from fall to spring when we have a large number of people calling in to report the onset of various cold and influenza strains, asking if we might be able to provide some relief from the uncomfortable symptoms and to shorten the duration of the illness. While western medicine has some measures to help protect and ward off flu viruses, it has no means at this time to assist in fighting off cold viruses. Since Traditional Chinese Medicine has been treating cold and flu symptoms for thousands of years, treatments for colds and flu viruses include acupuncture points and herbal formulas that not only help lessen the specific symptomology of the presenting illness, but additionally improve one’s own immune system and lend a hand with certain antiviral properties (many antiviral herbs are commonly used in China, not only by the general population, but by medical doctors and in regularly in their hospitals). It is the acupuncture treatment itself that boosts the body’s own immune system functions, making it more effective in targeting and destroying viruses, while many of the herbs in the formulas used for the common cold and flu viruses have specific antiviral properties to aid and speed up the healing process. Both acupuncture and herbs are also effective in targeting specific symptoms, to help provide quicker relief from common cold and flu symptoms.

What exactly is the difference between a common cold and flu virus?

Common colds are mild, viral upper respiratory infections that are associated with rhinitis(inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nasal cavity), laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx, or voice box), pharyngitis (inflammation at back of throat) and sometimes tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils). These infections cause the following well known symptoms:

Sneezing, runny nose, and/or nasal congestion

Scratchy and/or sore throat



Possible low grade fever

These symptoms present after 1-3 days of infection, and without treatment, typically run their course between 7-10 days. Cold viruses usually begin with a scratchy throat, followed by runny nose, with thicker mucous toward the end of the week. Having thick and/or colored mucous toward the end of the 7-10 days does not mean you have a sinus infection.

The flu is another type of viral respiratory infection, though symptoms typically come on faster and are more severe. Symptoms often include those listed above for the common colds, but also include
discomfort of the entire body (not just of the head and neck as is typical with the common cold). Additional symptoms of the flu can include:



Muscle aches

Extreme fatigue/weakness

While a few influenza strains include vomiting and/or diarrhea, most do not, and when people report having the “stomach flu”, they are typically referring to a different, non-flu infection. The majority of the more severe flu symptoms will subside within 2-5 days, though one will likely feel worn out and exhausted for 7-10 days.

When should I come in for treatment of a cold or flu?

Timing is of the essence when it comes to treating a cold or flu virus, and the earlier we see you, the greater the likelihood of decreasing the number of days spent sick and the severity of your symptoms. Most of us are familiar with the initial signs of an oncoming cold or flu, that knowing feeling of “maybe my throat is a little too dry”, or “I just feel a little off today” that runs through our heads just before we get sick. This is the ideal time to come in, and typically a single treatment and some herbs for one to three days will nip it in the bud. However, if you’re already in the full throes of a cold or flu, we can still help. In these cases we will typically want to see you for 1-3 acupuncture treatments in a row, and will likely also send you home with a stronger course of herbs to help get you feeling better as fast as possible. When you come in knowing that you feeling sick, particularly if you think it may be the flu, please ask us for a mask, as this will greatly help contain the virus and limit exposure to others. And for future reference, be attentive to washing your hands frequently and try to keep from rubbing your nose and eyes, as this is the most common way we catch cold and flu viruses.

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