Coughs, colds & Hayfever

Hayfever and Chinese Medicine

Most people think that seasonal hay fever and allergies are caused by pollen; this assumption is fully incorrect according to Chinese medicine; if pollen were the sole culprit of this type of allergy, everyone would suffer from hay fever.

Causes of Seasonal Allergies According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is very effective at addressing seasonal allergies and hay fever because there is a core understanding of the underlying root cause for this bodily imbalance. In Chinese medicine, hay fever has much more to do with the terrain of your body than external forces; in other words, you must have an underlying imbalance or weakness of the Wei Qi to be susceptible to the effects of pollen. Consider our Wei Qi formula.

Seasonal Allergies and TCM

Here are a few of the many reasons that your body becomes out of balance and is susceptible to seasonal allergies:

  • Genetic weaknesses and predisposition to allergies is generally thought of as a Kidney Deficiency and is a constitutional weakness of Essence.
  • Poor eating habits such as eating fried foods, sugars, processed foods, and raw foods can damage the Spleen and lead to Dampness and a weakened immune system. Obviously, improving lifestyle habits is ideal.
  • Chronic stress, ongoing exposure to the natural elements, and lack of rest can create an over taxation on the body and lead to fatigue and weakened resistance to external invasions of pathogens such as pollen.

Acute Hay Fever and TCM

As seen above, the ideal way to address seasonal allergies is to strengthen the body and to prevent hay fever from ever occurring. The question is, if you have not taken preemptive actions to optimize your health, how do you treat the allergies you are experiencing right now and alleviate the symptoms?

Acute Seasonal Allergies and TCM

For acute and general hay fever with stuffiness, sneezing, scratchy eyes and throat use herbs that ‘Expel Exterior Wind Heat Pathogen’, Yin Chao formula is often used short term or echinacea can be used in a pinch and can be found locally at any good health food store. Additionally, essential oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus oils can be used to drain sinuses; simply apply essential oils to a wash cloth placed in your shower and allow the hot water to create a steam. These oils must be diluted to apply over the sinuses to 5% and 95% carrier oil or they will burn the skin.

Chronic Sinus Congestion and TCM

The sinuses are part of the Lung Energetic system according to Chinese medicine. Typically, chronic sinus infections will not develop unless there is Internal Dampness present.

Allergic Rhinitis and Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine often views allergic rhinitis as related to ‘Wind’ noting that symptoms come and go rapidly, cause congestion, and make the person want to avoid windy situations. This Wind often coexists with a deficiency of the Protective Qi, or Wei, Qi. People with Wei Qi deficiency catch colds easily, and allergy symptoms may be particularly bad in the spring or fall, seasons which are generally windy.

While many over-the-counter remedies promise symptomatic relief, tonic herbs address the causes of allergies; treating the whole person, and focusing on balancing the immune system leads to substantial long-term health benefits in alleviating allergies. Addressing the more deeply-rooted signs in each person who presents with allergies is pivotal in developing a successful strategy according to Chinese medicine. The principle here is treating the whole person rather than chasing symptoms. Often, people with chronic allergies show signs of Spleen or Kidney Deficiency as well as Lung imbalances according to Traditional Chinese medicine. Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is an example of misplaced immunity. It is a learned response by the immune system where rapid physiological changes resulting in itchy eyes and throat, sinus congestion and sneezing, asthma, and even diarrhea are produced.

Typically, exposure to an allergen such as tree pollen elicits a massive release of IgE antibodies which attach to white blood cells known as mast cells. These cells are mostly located in the lungs and upper respiratory tract, the lining of the stomach and the skin. When these cells are stimulated, they release a number of chemicals including histamine which produce the allergic symptoms. For some, allergic symptoms can aggravate asthma or chronic sinusitis, both conditions that are well addressed with herbal formulas.

IgE-mediated allergies result in almost immediate symptoms and may be life-long or ‘fixed.’ There are also other types of allergic responses, which can be transient. One example is the delayed hypersensitivity reaction in which the allergic response may take up to 72 hours to manifest itself. These immune system reactions are often IgG-mediated and are commonly seen with food as well as inhalant allergies. Additionally, practitioners may also use the term allergy to describe other immune system responses such as nonspecific hypersensitivity or intolerances which are not classic allergic reactions but produce undesirable health effects in response to environmental exposures or food.

The Total Load Theory states that for some people exposure to a single allergen may not be enough to trigger a symptomatic response; however, exposure to several allergens near the same time elicits an allergic response. For example, let’s say that one is allergic to cow’s milk and to cypress pollen. She may drink milk daily without any noticeable allergic response, however when cypress pollens are present, she suffers from allergies. By avoiding dairy products during pollen season, she may be able to lessen her ‘allergic load’ and reduce her symptoms without reliance on symptomatic medications.

One misconception about tonic herbs that address immune system imbalances is that they will stimulate the immune system; those with allergies know that their immune system is already hyper-active and they do not want to stimulate it further. In reality, the Wei Qi herbs and other formulas normalize the immune response, and will not act in a way to stimulate the immune response negatively.

Sinusitis and TCM

Sinus Patterns of Imbalance in Chinese Medicine

In Asia, people commonly use Chinese herbs and acupuncture for sinusitis and sinus infections; even for acute and severe cases. This use of natural healing methods dramatically decreases the use of antibiotics thus avoiding the side effects of antibiotics and the overuse of antibiotics, which is attributed to a rise in bacterial resistance. It is valuable for our society to have options other than pharmaceutical antibiotics when dealing with sinus issues, especially for the chronic and recurrent infections which conventional western medicine does not address well.

Spleen Qi Deficiency and Chronic Sinus Drainage

When the sinuses are constantly draining it is a likely indication of an underlying Spleen Qi Deficiency. The Spleen is the organ system in charge of the “transformation and transportation of foods and fluids” in Chinese medicine. When fluids are not being properly transformed in the body, it is commonly attributed in some part to Spleen Qi Deficiency. Foods that create Dampness in the body should be avoided; these would include fried foods, raw foods, fruits, juices, dairy, iced drinks, and sweets.

Lung Deficiency and Chronic Sinusitis

The sinuses are actually part of the Metal Element and Lung energetic organ system according to Chinese medicine. Often, chronic sinusitis is an indication of an underlying Lung imbalance, especially for those who suffer from chronic coughs, chest congestion, asthma, recurring bronchitis, or COPD in addition to the sinus issues.

Wei Qi Deficiencies and Chronic Sinusitis

In Chinese medicine, Wei Qi, or Protective Qi, circulates at the surface of our body protecting us from exterior pathogenic influences such as viruses and allergens. A weakened immune system can lead to recurring colds and allergy attacks producing excessive phlegm and contributing to chronic sinusitis.

Chinese Medicine and Chronic Sinusitis

Chronic sinus issues can be triggered by a number of underlying conditions, including: allergies, constitutional Dampness, and structural septum deviation; a structural issue will not likely be fully resolved without surgery. With chronic sinusitis, the walls of the sinus cavity become inflamed and are often painful to the touch. If you suffer from chronic recurring sinusitis or sinus infections, it is likely that your situation is complicated and beyond simple solutions.

The formulas listed below address underlying organ system imbalances that contribute to chronic sinusitis, but repairing organ level imbalances can take many months. For more immediate relief to inflamed sinus cavities and post nasal drip while the tonic formulas have a chance to address organ deficiencies,

Deficiencies of organ systems in TCM leading to chronic sinusitis are often marked by clear or white drainage according to Chinese medicine, but can be present alongside an infection marked by colored phlegm or discharges.

Bacterial Sinus Infections

Ideally, a sinus infection is addressed quickly and effectively; this is rarely the case, thus the huge number of people who suffer with chronic sinus conditions. While conventional wisdom in Chinese medicine suggests that tonic herbs should not be used during an acute infection, those with chronic sinus infections have no choice but to use the tonic formulas mentioned above, even with signs of an active sinus infection, in order to make any progress in resolving this issue.

Bacterial sinus infections tend be accompanied by yellow or green viscous discharges. There are strong anti-bacterial herbs that can clear up sinus infections effectively, such as coptis, goldenseal, and Oregon grape root; these are best used for a week to 10 days to wipe out a sinus infection; Bacterial infections are most often classified as ‘Hot’ condition in Chinese medicine, and the herbs that clear this type of infection are very ‘Cold’ in nature. Thus, these herbs cannot be taken for longer than two to three weeks without disrupting the Yin-Yang balance of the body, and possibly damaging the Spleen function; this is true for pharmaceutical antibiotics also. For children, echinacea glycerite is a gentle and effective antibiotic that can be used to heal sinus infections, but adults require stronger antibiotics. Goldenseal and Oregon grape root are commonly found at local health food stores.

Those who experience re-occurring sinus infections often harbor bacteria in the sinus cavity that can multiply rapidly when Damp phlegm presents due to allergies or a cold. One should avoid drying out the sinuses with potent over-the-counter anti-histamines before clearing any infection; the symptoms may disappear for a time, but the next time you have the sniffles, a mild viral infection, or hay fever, you may end up with a full blown sinus infection because the bacteria is lingering.

Until the bacteria are fully eliminated, the chronic cycle will continue. In addition to the anti-bacterial herbs mentioned above, Neti pots are used to irrigate the sinuses with salt water and can be quite effective in curing chronic sinus infections. Intense ear candling, with three candles on each side for three days, can also draw out the infection effectively reducing future re-occurring sinus infections. In the end though, it is necessary to resolve the Organ level imbalances as mentioned above to break the cycle of chronic sinus infections.

In addition to sinus headaches, sinusitis may be accompanied by a stuffy nose; sticky-yellow or purulent nasal discharge; nasal congestion; nosebleed; diminished sense of smell; headache; a feeling of heaviness in the head; fever; sore throat; and facial pressure around the cheeks, eyes, and forehead.

Herbs for Chronic Sinusitis: Consider Euphrasia officinalis – Eyebright

An anti-inflammatory Western herb, eyebright is specific for restoring the mucus membrane along the sinus cavity. This is an effective but mild remedy that can be taken for several months to bring down inflammatory responses associated with chronic rhinitis. This astringent herb also relieves sinus congestion.

Urtica dioica – Nettle

A popular herb in Western herbalism and wise women traditions, nettle herb is highly nutritious, builds blood, and is often used with hair loss remedies. Nettles is also traditional used to relieve allergic rhinitis, or chronic sinusitis due to allergies.

Verbascum thapsis spp. – Mullein leaf

A Native American herb that is often seen along the roadsides in early summer into the fall as its distinctive large silver leaves and yellow flowers mature. A gentle herb that can be used over time to restore lung health and reduce dampness and sinus drainage, mullein has broad applications for respiratory conditions.

Mentha spp.-bo he-Mint

Mint dispels wind-heat pathogens, such as a common cold or flu with fever and headache by promoting sweating and opening the sinuses. Mint also relieves digestive pain and gas.

Thymus Vulgaris-Thyme

A top herb in Lung health, Thyme is antibiotic in the Lungs and sinuses, can open breathing passageways, stops wheezing in asthma cases, and dries dampness and phlegm.

Olea europaea- Olive leaf

It is an essential nutrient for all anti-aging programs and for enhancing the immune system. Strengthens the cardiovascular system and is an antioxidant. Used traditionally to lower blood pressure and moderate blood sugar. Olive leaf is one of the best herbs used to alleviate chronic sinusitis and sinus inflammation.

Althaea officinalis- Marshmallow root

Reduces inflammation throughout the body and nourishes the Yin. Increases digestive absorption and heals all mucus membrane along the digestive tract, lungs and urinary tract. This demulcent herb repairs the lungs and sinuses.

Inula helenium- Elecampane root

A distinguished Native American energy tonic that affects the Spleen, Lungs and Heart. Useful for any deficiency of the respiratory system. Clears damp conditions of the lung and digestive tract. Strengthens the immune function. This is an important traditional herbal cure for restoring lung health in cases of asthma and bronchitis.

Calendula officinalis – Calendula flower

Calendula is a gentle remedy that helps to prevent the development of bacterial and fungal sinus infections.

Cold-Flu and Traditional Chinese medicine

Preventing Colds and Flu’s with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine recognizes viruses as external pathogens. However, there is more emphasis in Chinese medicine in the importance of maintaining a strong immune system, or “Wei Qi”, so that the external pathogens cannot attack the body. In other words, your Wei Qi must be weak or compromised in order to become vulnerable to a viral infection. Ideally, your immune response, or Wei Qi, will be strong as a result of good lifestyle choices such as sufficient sleep, regular exercise, good nutrition, and stress management. Avoiding prolonged exposure to the elements is also important in maintaining a vigorous Wei Qi. Look to our Enlightened Emperor formula to help support a healthy stress response.

In Chinese medicine, colds and flu’s are delineated into several different energetic classifications. Here we will outline the different types of cold and flu viruses that you will likely encounter, and then describe the best home remedies for these specific patterns that you can use to address cold or influenza virus.

Cold and Flu Basics

The basic pathogenic influences are:

  • Wind
  • Cold
  • Heat
  • Damp


Theoretically, wind enters the body through the back of the neck area or nose carrying the pathogen. It first attacks the Lung system (including the sinuses) because the Lung organ system is the most external Yin organ, and thus the most vulnerable to an external invasion. External Wind invasion is marked by acute conditions with a sudden onset of symptoms. Wind combines with one or more of the other pathogenic influences:


“Wind-Cold” evil external pathogens typically include symptoms such as chills, stiffness, headache radiating from the back of the neck, desire for warm fluids, and phlegm with a clear or white discharge.


“Wind-Heat” evil external pathogens can include a sore throat, swollen glands, fever (or the feeling of heat in the body), heat rashes, irritability, headache radiating from the temples and eyes, and phlegm with a yellow, orange or green color.


“Dampness” often combines with “Wind-Heat” or “Wind-Cold” as seen above, and is marked by lethargy, a foggy brain, aches and pain, and damp discharges.

Home Remedies for Cold and Flu

It is not always possible to maintain balance in our lives and manage stress well, so you may find yourself the victim of an “evil exterior pathogen”. Treating these pathogens quickly and effectively is essential to prevent the pathogen from travelling more deeply in to the body and causing chronic conditions. Home remedies that can treat colds and flu’s effectively include herbs and essential oils that are diaphoretic; they open the pores and allow the pathogen to release back out to the exterior through perspiration. From a Western perspective, herbs and essential oils that treat cold and flu contain chemical constituents that are highly anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and in some cases, anti-fungal.

Therapeutic herbal baths are made by making a strong infusion of herbs; this potent tea is added to the bath water after cooling. For Wind-Heat pathogens (again, colds and flu’s with sore throat, fever, agitation), cool herbs that produce a sweat are used such as elder, yarrow, and catnip. Catnip is especially effective at bringing a fever down and all three are a safe alternative treatment for children’s colds.

Wind-Cold Pathogens

Herbs and spices with warming qualities will be most beneficial with a Wind Cold pathogenic virus. Cinnamon is a highly anti-viral spice that has been shown in studies to effectively combat flu viruses, and the essential oil of cinnamon is readily available and inexpensive. A soup with a base of chicken broth can be prepared with green onion and grated ginger for an easy and effective home remedy for Wind-Cold pathogens, and all of the ingredients are available at most grocery stores.


Dampness often combines with Wind-Heat pathogens marked by colored phlegm which is a sign of infection, and Wind-Cold pathogens with clear or white phlegm.

Anti-bacterial essential oils such as thyme and marjoram can be added to a pot of steaming water (watch for burns), to treat sinus infections and lung infections with colored phlegm. Eucalyptus and peppermint help open the sinuses and drain phlegm congestion. Diluted essential oils can be applied to the skin over the sinus cavity to treat sinus infections also. The pure essential oil of tea tree can be used for fungal infections of the sinuses. In both the case of a Wind-Cold, or a Wind-Heat pathogen, saltwater irrigation with a netti pot dries phlegm and fights infection. With infections, it is important to bring in potent anti-biotic herbs such as goldenseal or coptis to treat the infection internally. Take herbal antibiotics regularly and continue for a number of days after symptoms have abated.

Asthma and Traditional Chinese medicine

In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), asthma can present with a variety of symptoms and severities that include:

  • Chronic asthma
  • Seasonal asthma often associated with seasonal allergies
  • Acute asthma associated with stress

While a lung imbalance is indicated with all lung diseases, other organ system imbalances can contribute to the way a asthma manifests. Examining the associations between organ systems can help better identify disease patterns and develop effective approaches:

Lung Qi Deficiency and Asthma

Those with Lung Deficiency typically experience asthma attacks triggered by changes in weather, exposure to allergens, or viral infections. These asthma incidents often present with sneezing, stuffy nose and sinus congestion. During remission, patients may experience the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low voice

Patients with Lung Qi Deficiency typically have weak immune systems and are susceptible to catching colds.

An insufficiency of the Lung energetic organ function can be constitutional, or genetic, in nature and begin to present symptoms in childhood such as catching colds frequently or childhood asthma. Generalized Qi Deficiency of the whole body over a long period of time can also lead to Lung Qi Deficiency resulting in tiredness, a weak voice, and generalized Lung health deterioration.

Lung-Spleen Qi Deficiency and Asthma

Asthma that presents with a great deal of phlegm commonly has a complicating factor of Spleen Qi Deficiency which must be addressed along with the restoration of Lung health for improved breathing. Patients with Spleen Deficiency can have asthma attacks triggered by improper dietary intake, such as greasy, cold or spicy foods. Spleen Deficiency leads to Internal Dampness in the body; symptoms of this pattern of Lung imbalance is marked by:

  • Loose stools
  • Swollen tongue with scalloped edges
  • Fatigue

Lung-Kidney Deficiency and Asthma

Those with Kidney Deficiency typically have chronic asthma attacks triggered by exhaustion and over-exertion. Additionally, the inability to adapt well and to tolerate abrupt changes in the weather, their lifestyle, or the environment is common with this pattern of imbalance. Common symptoms include a cough with sticky sputum, frail appearance, weakness of the lower back and knees, coldness of the limbs and extremities, pale face, and oedema around the ankles. Night time asthma is caused by Lung Deficiency and Kidney Yin Deficiency.

The Lungs and Kidneys are closely related in Chinese medicine and many chronic Lung diseases are rooted in Kidney Deficiency. In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys ‘grasp the breath’; conditions marked with difficulty inhaling indicate Kidney Deficiencies. Whereas, an inability to exhale indicates Lung Qi Deficiency; both are present typically.

Note: These herbs are not meant to replace prescribed medications and inhalers used for asthma. Always consult your doctor before discontinuing any medication.