Monday, November 1, 2010

Acupuncture for Upper Respiratory Problems

Welcome to the first entry of Acupuncture Wisdom. I hope you find these posts useful in understanding how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine might be useful with improving your health.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, respiratory problems, such as sinus congestion, cough, bronchitis, the flu and even colds, are the realm of the Lungs. The "Lung area" includes the nose, sinuses, throat and actual lungs. When TCM was originally developed thousands of years ago, the doctors weren't aware of viruses and bacteria causing illness, they just saw how different types of illness affected the body. Because of this, acupuncture doesn't treat the illness, like an antibiotic does, it treats the body to help it fight off the illness. By working on the immune system, acupuncture strengthens the body and over time leaves you better able to fend off future illnesses. 

A little about the immune system. 

The TCM concept of the immune system is called Wei Qi (pronounced "Way Chee") which is seen as the most superficial layer of Qi, or energy in the body. It acts like a force field to prevent illness from invading the body. When you take care of yourself (eat well, rest, exercise) your Wei Qi is strong and you don't get sick very often. When you are stressed, don't sleep well and survive on sugar and caffeine, your Wei Qi is weak and you get run down and sick far more often. The stronger your Wei Qi, the better able you are to fend off any invading pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungii).

Now about illness.

Different illnesses affect the body in different ways: some cause sinus congestion with a lot of phlegm; some cause high fever with cough, sore throat and body aches; some cause coughing that is worse at night. TCM views each of these types of conditions as "the elements" (wind, cold, heat, dampness) invading the body. Wind typically brings other elements into the body. Pure wind conditions are the most benign, usually symptoms like move like wind: aches that move around, scratchy throat, clear runny nose, headache that comes and goes. If wind brings in cold, you might also see: chills, craving warm foods and beverages, more fixed painful headaches. With heat you'll also see: sweats, fever, thirst, sore throat, maybe a rash. With dampness you see phlegm: sinus/nasal congestion, coughing up phlegm, foggy head; the phlegm will be clear, white or yellow/green depending on whether the dampness is accompanied by just wind, or also cold or heat. Any of these elements can be seen alone or in combination. These elements are the body's reaction to whatever pathogen has invaded the body.

Now about acupuncture.

Acupuncture doesn't specify whether you've contracted the common cold, the flu, a sinus infection or bronchitis, it treats you according to your symptoms and whether they point to wind, wind-cold, wind-heat, wind-damp, etc. By treating the area of the body affected (the nose and sinuses for congestion, the chest for cough, etc.) plus the Pathogenic influence (wind-cold, wind-heat...), your body can better mount a defense against the illness and you will feel better faster. Rather than suppressing symptoms, like most over-the-counter cold medicines do, you are helping the body get rid the illness so the duration of your illness is shorter. Feeling better faster is the point after all.


  1. Great post, Janine! I'm not sure I could have explained that as well.

  2. Janine, thanks for the blog. Your ideas are helpful in explaining how all of us can strive for optimal health.