It’s that time of year again when we start to see an increase in what we commonly refer to as “a cold” or “the flu“. The idea of “catching a cold” has been around since the early days of Western Medicine. The term “common cold” dates back to at least 16th century Europe and in Chinese medicine the idea of catching cold goes back even further. There is a lot of speculation about how the term originated. Like their modern counterparts, early humans no doubt suffered with this illness. It probably didn’t take them very long to notice a relationship between the onset of cold weather and the increase of sickness. This may have led to the idea that a person who got chilled from the cold “caught cold”. Or it may be that a person who had symptoms of chills, shivering, and a runny nose was described as like a person who was physically cold. Today we realize that a cold and its cousin the flu are both types of viral infections. In reality, relatively few people casually diagnosed with “the flu” are really infected with a true influenza virus. Most of what we suffer with is some sort of other virus, a rhinovirus, which affects the respiratory tract; minor ones cause “a cold” and more virulent types cause what we erroneously call “the flu”. And while we’re on the topic, what is often referred to as the “stomach flu” isn’t influenza either; it’s typically either a bacterial infection from bad food or air borne virus that likes to play havoc with the digestive tract.
Not all people who contract one of these viruses have the same symptoms. Some people feel chills and slight fever and have a watery runny nose, while others feel very feverish, have a hot sore throat, and a thick yellow nasal discharge or chest congestion. In the traditional Chinese medicine approach these two symptom patterns are recognized as unique conditions, even though they may both be classified as “cold” or “flu” from a Western Medicine perspective. Consequently, two people who both have a “cold” but have a different symptom pattern require different treatment. This is particularly true with respect to herbal medicine. The appropriate medicine must be used for each condition or it is likely that it will have no effect or even make the condition worse. So just because your friend had good success with a particular remedy doesn’t mean that it will be right for you.
Many people don’t think of their “acupuncturist” when they start to come down with a cold or flu. But Chinese herbal medicine can have a near miraculous effect if it is prescribed at the first sign of symptoms, stopping the illness in its tracks before it has time to develop. However if you wait until the illness is in full bloom it will have to run its course and symptom management is typically the best result you can hope for. So if you are hesitant to come in for what you think might be just a simple cold, consider that a quick office visit and herbal prescription may prevent time spent out of work or feeling lousy for a week or so.