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A Chinese Medicine Approach to Navigating Flu Season

From a Chinese medicine view, there are many ways to categorize and diagnose different types of Colds and cases of Flu, based on your signs and symptoms. For example, some Colds may present with more heat-related symptoms like fever and swollen throat; whereas other Colds may present with more cold-related symptoms like chills and a drippy nose. There are some cases where symptoms blend together like alternating chills and fever; some cases present with a lot of mucus and phlegm, while others are more dry and hoarse. Some people experience big and severe symptoms whereas others may feel weak and run down. We also differentiate by affected body parts: some are more sinus-related, throat, chest, or digestive.

Common colds and influenza are viral infections that affect our respiratory system. Many times, we see patients taking antibiotics that treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. Overuse of antibiotics can deplete your healthy bacteria, making us less resistant to infections. Over the counter medications may dull out symptoms, but they won’t help your system fight it off. Chinese medicine can help reduce both the symptoms and the duration.

The time to come in for a treatment is at the very first sign of not feeling well or a bit run down. Notice what your early red flags are when your immune system is feeling low.

Common early symptoms may be:

Slight chilliness

Sniffly or a few sneezes

Sensitivity to wind or drafts

Feeling a little sweaty

Scratchy throat

Achy neck and shoulders

There is no “one-size fits all” approach to treatment. Depending on your signs and symptoms, our practitioner will use different Chinese medicine modalities (acupuncture, herbal formulas, cupping, bodywork) that are specific for your differential diagnosis pattern.


Prevention is key to warding off colds and flu. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when possible.

We have a concept in Chinese medicine called Wei Qi which is our outer defense system that protects us from pathogenic influences, like the invading viral infections. Which, if you think about it, kind of sounds like our immune system! If you’re someone who gets sick easily and often, it would be helpful to start treatment a season before flu-season to boost your immune system and strengthen your Wei Qi. One of our favorite formulas we use for this is called Yu Ping Feng San, which translates to “Guard Against The Wind” – think of wind as the carrier for airborne pathogens that affect our respiratory system. Wearing a scarf is a simple way of protecting the neck from the cold wind.


There are some dietary and lifestyle recommendations we like to give to our patients, which you can do at home:

Get plenty of rest: increase the amount of sleep you get. Here’s a helpful blog on how to find your seasonal sleep rhythm.

Keep warm: take a hot shower or epsom salt bath. Wear warm clothes and protect your neck with a scarf.

Stay hydrated, drink warm liquids and tea: a seasonal favorite is warm water with a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and a squeeze of lemon. Thyme and rosemary both have antiviral and antibacterial properties, while lemon has a high content of immune system boosting Vitamin C.

Soups and stews: chicken soup really is a wonderful meal for combating a cold, with electrolytes in the broth, acrid onions to produce a light sweat, and chicken for nourishing Qi.

Here is a lovely recipe:

1 pound of Chicken Drumsticks

1 large yellow onion, stem ends removed and cut into chunks (can leave peel on)

1 Celery Root, washed and cut into chunks

2 large carrots, washed, stem and end removed and cut into chunks

2 - 3 Parsnips, washed, stem and end removed and cut into chunks

2 large Celery Stalks, washed and cut into chunks

1 - 2 Turnips, washed, stem and ends removed and cut into chunks

2 - 3 teaspoons of salt

10 - 12 cups of Water

In a large soup pot, put in chicken thighs and all the root vegetables. Cover with water up to 4 to 5 inches above the chicken. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 hours. Taste and add salt. Strain broth and serve individual portions reheated and poured into a mug. Season with additional sea salt if desired.

Five Element Analysis for Soup

Soup is a Water Element food so that Element is automatically covered. The Chicken and Chicken Broth contribute the Wood Element and the Celery in both the stock and soup add even more. The Peppers, Paprika and Tomatoes make sure the Fire Element has a presence and the Potatoes and Cabbage contribute the Earth Element. The Onions and Garlic round off the Five Elements and makes this a very balanced soup!

Sooth your throat: elderberry lozenges can help to soothe the throat

De-stress: when we catch ourselves overthinking or worrying too much it can undermine our health.

We are here to support you during this flu season. Call us to make an appointment today!

Phone: 224-313-5901

Address: 1400 S Wolf Rd. Bldg 200, Suite 203, Wheeling, IL 60090


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