Acupuncture Treatment for Common Cold (感冒)

Table of contents
  1. The Introduction of Common Cold
  2. The Etiology of Common Cold
  3. The pathology of Common Cold
  4. How to Diagnose and differentiate Common Cold(see Table 20)
  5. The Treatment of Common Cold
  6. Prevention and Education

The Introduction of Common Cold


  • A contagious infection of the upper respiratory tract. It is usually caused by a virus, but occasionally by bacteria, and sometimes a viral infection triggers a bacterial infection and both are present.

Clinical features

  • Chills and fever.
  • Runny nose or nasal congestion.
  • Sneezing.
  • Sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Headache.
  • General body aching, stiff neck, or joint aching.
  • Malaise.

Western treatment

  • No specific treatment available.
  • Rest.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Take vitamin C.
  • Take aspirin to stop pain from headaches, etc. and to sweat.
  • Take decongestants if there is nasal congestion.
  • Antibiotics may be given if there is a high fever or a sore throat due to bacteria.

TCM names for the common cold
Gan Mao (“catch an invasion”).

Shang Feng (“damaged by wind”).

Shi Xin Gan Mao (if it is an epidemic).

The Etiology of Common Cold

  • All exogenous pathogenic factors (EPFs) can potentially be involved, but Wind is the most important factor.
  • Spring is the season in which Wind dominates. Wind may combine with Cold in winter, Dryness in autumn, Summer Heat with Dampness in summer.

The pathology of Common Cold

Chief pathology

  • EPFs invade the body through the skin, nose, or mouth when Wei Qi is deficient, which leads to abnormal functioning of the pores (dysfunction of Wei Qi). Symptoms like fever, aversion to cold, headache, body ache, stiff neck, sweating, or no sweating may present.

Secondary pathology

The Lung opens into the nose and dominates the skin. EPFs invading the skin and nose will eventually penetrate to the Lungs, which impairs the Lungs’ dispersing and descending function, leading to nasal congestion, running nose, cough, sore throat, etc.

Summer-Heat or Dampness may affect the Spleen and Stomach, leading to abnormal transformation and transportation or reversed flow of Stomach Qi. Symptoms like abdominal distension, chest tightness, diarrhea, thirst without a desire to drink, nausea, or vomiting may present. It is often seen in stomach flu in Western medicine.

Weakness of Wei Qi

Weakness of Wei Qi and invasion of pathogenic Qi lead to Cold.

Weakness of Wei Qi can be caused by:

  • A sudden weather change (Wei Qi fails to adjust).
  • An improper lifestyle (e.g. not dressing for the weather, camping on cold ground, eating lots of cold food, or going to bed late repeatedly).
  • Overwork (it consumes energy, leading to disharmony between Ying and Wei).
  • Constitutional factors (e.g. Qi and Blood deficiency; Yang or Yin deficiency). A cold caused by constitutional deficiency is termed Xu Qi Gan Mao. For example, chronic Lung disorder (e.g. asthma or chronic bronchitis): Lung-Qi is weak and cannot disperse Wei Qi to the superficial level to regulate the pores.


  • Cold syndrome can transform into Heat syndrome.
  • Heat syndrome can combine with Cold syndrome.

Deficiency (Xu) constitution

A deficiency constitution makes the body more vulnerable to invasion by EPFS. There are four deficiency constitutions with the common cold:

  • Qi deficiency combined with the common cold.
  • Yang deficiency combined with the common cold.
  • Blood deficiency combined with the common cold.
  • Yin deficiency combined with the common cold.

Those with Yang deficiency and/or Qi deficiency constitutions easily catch Wind-Cold; those with Yin deficiency and/or Blood deficiency constitutions easily catch Wind-Heat. Seniors are more prone to Wind-Cold; youth are more prone to Wind-Heat.

For a Cold disease, the symptoms do not change as quickly or as much as they generally do for a Warm Disease. Wind-Cold generally stays in the Taiyang Meridian for longer.

The normal course of the common cold is 5–7 days. The normal course of the flu is a little bit longer if there is no complication.

The common cold is a relatively mild condition and usually stays at the superficial level, so it is relatively easy to cure.

How to Diagnose and differentiate Common Cold(see Table 20)

Differentiation of diseases

(1)Common cold vs. influenza

  • The common cold is relatively mild, whereas influenza is more severe.
Table 20.Summary of differentiation and treatment of the common cold
Table 20.Summary of differentiation and treatment of the common cold
  • A cold is usually caused by EPF invasion, whereas the flu is usually caused by pestilential evils (Li Qi) — a severe virus or bacterium that causes an epidemic.

(2)Common cold vs. early stage of Warm Disease

  • Fever. For a cold the fever is usually not high or is not present, whereas for a Warm Disease there is a high fever.
  • Reaction to treatment. For a cold, generally the fever is gone and the pulse is slower after treatment, whereas for a Warm Disease the fever temporarily increases after treatment but comes back down quickly.
  • Pathological changes. For a cold the pathological changes are not complicated and happen slowly, whereas for a Warm Disease the pathology changes fairly quickly.

Differentiation of syndromes

(1)Differentiation of external cold from external heat

  • Aversion to cold is severe for Cold.
  • Fever is severe for Heat.
  • Sweating is more likely for Heat.
  • Sore throat is present for Heat.
  • The tongue has a thin, white coating for Cold but a thin, Yellow coating for Heat.
  • The pulse is Floating and Tight for Cold but Floating and Rapid for Heat.

(2)Summer-Heat, Dampness, or Dryness

  • Summer-Heat and Dampness are more likely in summer.
  • Dryness is more likely in the fall.
  • Many combinations of pathogenic factors are possible; Summer-Heat with Dampness is just one of the most common.

The Treatment of Common Cold

Principle of treatment


  • Release the exterior.
  • Eliminate pathogenic Qi.


  • Eliminate Wind-Cold.
  • Release the exterior.


  • Eliminate Wind-Heat.
  • Release the exterior.

If combined with Damp → transform Damp.

If combined with Summer-Heat → remove Summer-Heat.

If combined with Dryness → moisten Dryness.


Acrid/pungent herbs have a dispersing quality to disperse pathogenic Qi and release the exterior.


  • Mahuang Tang (Ephedra Decoction).
  • Guizhi Tang (Cinnamon Twig Decoction).

(2)Summer-Heat with Dampness

  • Huoxiang Zhengqi San (Agastache Powder to Rectify the Qi).
  • Xin Jia Xiangru Yin (Newly-Augmented Elsholtzia Decoction).


  • Yin Qiao San (Honeysuckle and Forsythia Decoction).
  • Sangju Yin (Mulberry Leaf and Chrysanthemum Decoction).

(4)Deficiency constitution with the common cold

  • Qi deficiency combined with the common cold — Shen Su Yin (Ginseng and Perilla Leaf Decoction).
  • Yang deficiency combined with the common cold — Mahuang Fuzi Xixin Tang (Ephedra, Asarum, and Prepared Aconite Decoction).
  • Blood deficiency combined with the common cold — Congbai Qi Wei Yin (Scallion Decoction with Seven Ingredients).
  • Yin deficiency combined with the common cold — Jia Jian Wei Rui Tang (Modified Polygonatum Odoratum Decoction).

(5)Patent medicines

  • Wu Shi Cha (Afternoon Tea) for Wind-Cold.
  • Yin Qian Jie Du Pian (Honeysuckle and Forsythia Resolve Toxin Tablets) for Wind-Heat.
  • Sangju Ganmao Chong Ji (Mulberry Leaf and Chrysanthemum Common Cold Tablets) for Wind-Heat.
  • Banlangen Chong Ji (Banlangen Beverage) for Wind-Heat (and a good anti-viral).
  • Huoxiang Zhengqi Wan (Agastache Tablets to Rectify the Qi) for Summer-Damp.


(1)Commonly used meridians

  • Large Intestine Meridian
  • Lung Meridian
  • Bladder Meridian

If combined with Damp, also include:

  • Triple Energizer Meridian
  • Spleen Meridian

(2)General points

  • GB 20, GV 14, 16
  • BL 12
  • LU 1, BL 13
  • LI 4, 11, 20
  • Bitong, Yintang, Taiyang
  • TE 5 (release the exterior)

(3)Stomach flu

  • CV 12
  • PC 6
  • ST 36


  • For sore throat, bleed LU 11.
  • For high fever, bleed the ear apex or GV 14.


  • For stiff neck, do retaining cupping or sliding cupping on BL 11, 12, 13.
  • Do sliding cupping starting on GV 14 and moving down to the lumbar and back again 5–6 times. Then retain the cup at GV 14 for 10 min; or do sliding cupping from GV 14 to GV 9 and back until there is local redness. Do the same on the first Bladder line and then on the second if the cold is severe. Then retain the cup at GV 14 for 5 min.


Focus on Taiyang and GV Meridians on the upper back and neck area.


  • GV 14
  • BL 13
  • BL 40

Auricular acupuncture

    • Lung
    • Trachea
    • Internal Nose
    • Throat
    • San Jiao

Plum blossom needle

Use for:

  • High fever without sweating
  • Stiff neck


  • GV Meridian
  • Bladder Meridian

Tap with the plum blossom needle and then do cupping.

Prevention and Education


  • LI 20 and LI 4 for 3–5 min each, 2–3 times per day, until there is soreness and redness.
  • Rub the ear helix twice per day.
  • Rub GB 20.


  • ST 36 (3–6 units)
  • GV 14
  • BL 12, 13


  • Guanzhong Tang can be taken in winter and spring.
  • Hupei Tang can be taken in summer.
  • Prevention or treatment for flu: Huanzhong (10 g), Yazhicao (10 g), Banlangen (12 g), Shenggancao (6 g)→ make into a tea and drink during the epidemic season.

(3)Other recommendations

  • Open a window to change the air.
  • Avoid public areas in the epidemic season.
  • Outdoor exercises can build the constitution.
  • Sterilize the house using 100 mL of vinegar in 100–200 mL of water and boil on the stove to steam the house.