The Common Cold: Rhinovirus

By Pat Matthews

It's nowhere near extinct, but Chinese medicine and home remedies can keep populations under control.
by Pat Matthews
It's cold and flu season again. From roughly late fall through early spring the rhinovirus, the cold bug, is king. With over 100 different strains and easy transmission through air and physical contact, the rhinovirus has something for almost everyone. In its wake, victims are left not only with headaches, muscle aches, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite and irritability, but also coughs, sniffles and sneezing-several perfect ways to share your cold with a friend!

This little virus infects about 100 million people each winter. As a nation, we spend around $8 billion on doctors, $3 billion on over-the-counter drugs, and over $400 million on prescriptions-that's just for rhinovirus related illnesses. Add in lost days of work and days taken off to care for sick children or elderly parents, and this little bug costs us about $20 billion per year. And that may be a conservative estimate.

If you get the bug, you are infectious up to three days before you show symptoms and remain infectious for nearly a week after. Once you are symptomatic, there is no cure in Western medicine for the common cold. Your doctor will prescribe medications to ease the discomfort, and you'll probably try the over-the-counter medicines that are advertised on television, but you'll still be sick six to 14 days. Then you may turn right around and catch another cold because your immune system has been weakened, or because the cold keeps rotating between family members and even between home, work, and school.

Oriental medicine may have an answer. According to a Chinese adage, "Never steal from a poor man." Practitioners choose to treat the cold long before the cold season, before the patient is in "poor" health. Throughout Asia, the coming "cold season" is anticipated and treatments are given during the summer or warm months. To recover "rich" health after exhibiting symptoms, treatments such as acupuncture or acupressure, cupping, gua sha, massage, steam baths and herbs can help you feel better and speed up the healing process.

Oriental medicine draws its concepts from the natural order of things: natural forces, elements, and energy. The body consists of five elements: water, wood, metal, air and fire. Your body's balance is defined in terms of yin and yang and the flow of qi, or energy. Health and illness are described in terms of complementary pairs: hot-cold, interior-exterior, damp-dry, upper-lower, wind-stagnation, excess-deficiency. A healthy body has a harmonic balance of natural forces, energies and elements. When these elements are imbalanced you are prone to illness and need to regain the balance to get better.

Acupuncture is one method of encouraging harmony in body systems. It stimulates the body's electrical  and blood flow to enhance production of chemicals such as prostaglandins to modulate the inflammatory process and reduce pain, interleukins which strengthen the immune response, histamines which increase immune cells and stimulate blood and lymph flows, and kinins that increase blood flow and stimulate pain receptors.

Stimulating certain acupuncture points can reduce mucus production and coughing or assist the body with warming (in the case of chills) or to cooling (in the case of fever). Body aches and pains can be eased. Acupuncture and also provide the lungs with support by dilating the alveoli where the blood/oxygen exchange takes place.

Cupping (a suction technique) or gua sha (scraping the surface of the skin with a smooth instrument) help open the lungs and enhance blood flow to heal the body and carry away the toxins (dead cell tissue, viruses or other substances in the body). Massage or tui nah also stimulate blood flow, relax the body and stimulate acupoints that aid in the healing process.

Herbs are also commonly used to help the body balance its chemical structure. In Chinese medicine, herbs work through a number of actions, including taste (acrid, sweet, bitter, sour or salty), temperature (hot, cold, warm, cool and neutral), and aroma. The therapeutic actions include promoting sweat, inducing vomiting, purging, harmonizing, warming, clearing and tonifying. For example, the Cong Bai-scallion or spring onion has an acrid taste and warm temperature. It enters through the nasal passage to help clear up the sinuses and can be ingested whole, raw, cooked, or made into a decoction (tea). The therapeutic actions ascribed to this simple herb are many: It induces sweating to help clear up a cold, but it also aids with abdominal pain and distention, can be used as a poultice to clear up abscesses, and when placed over the breast as a topical, it can promote lactation in new mothers.

A few simple home

remedies for colds

Gargling with a mild salt solution can keep the throat cleared of viruses and helps to break down mucous.

Drinking a cup of lemon juice and honey in hot water will soothe a sore throat and reduce coughing.

Avoid coffee, tea, soda and alcohol because they all cause dehydration.

Some believe that drinking milk during a cold will cause the production of phlegm, but studies both in the U.S. and Australia conclude there's no correlation.

A warm, moist shower or steamy bath not only feels good, but also helps open bronchial passages.

You might also simply wrap up in your favorite bathrobe, put some warm socks on your feet, prop yourself up with a stack of soft pillows, have a bowl of chicken soup and sleep. (This home remedy is even better when you aren't sick!)

This article was originally published on December 3, 2007.