Home China Different Approaches for Treating Headaches and a Cold

Different Approaches for Treating Headaches and a Cold

Anyone can benefit from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), from a headache, the common cold, a sprained ankle, and even food poisoning — all can be treated by using TCM. Here are two examples of the different approaches taken when using TMC or modern medicine for treating headaches and a cold.

Headaches and migraines

Headaches and migraines are the most common neurological conditions in the developed world, with more than 45 million U.S. citizens suffering from chronic headaches each year.

Conventional approach:

The most common treatment for headaches is the use of Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID), which serve to block pain and inflammation.

Temporary relief is given in the short term; however, the long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to side effects. These side effects can range from nausea, heartburn, “rebound” headaches, and even liver stress.

 Traditional Chinese medicine approach:

In traditional Chinese medicine, herbs are used to treat headaches; these herbs assist in calming the liver, dispel pathogens, and unblock meridians. The types of herbs used are determined by whether the headache is caused by external or internal influences.

External influences would include environmental factors, such as wind, which result in pressure to the sinuses and upsetting the flow of blood and qi to the head.

Internal influences are caused by the internal imbalance of liver yin and yang qi.

TCM also classifies symptoms into hot and cold. Cold symptoms caused by wind (classified as wind-cold) are categorized by strong chills, wheezing, and an inability to sweat; wind-cold symptoms usually occur during winter and spring.

Hot symptoms caused by wind (classified as wind-heat) are categorized by congestion, runny nose, swollen glands, fever, and usually occur during summer and autumn.

The types of herbs used, along with the pain types, are listed below:

Internal Type Plain Type Causes Herb What it Does
Liver yang qi rising up to the head (most common) Throbbing pain on the side of the head/behind the eyes

Dizziness, irritability, nausea


Long-term deficiency of liver yin qi

Tian Ma Gou Ten Yin Balances the liver qi
Liver fire As above and additionally:

Red face and eyes

-Red tongue with a yellow coat

Severe anger

Extreme heat

Long Dan Xie Gan Wan Purges heat from liver
Internal Type Plain Type Herb What it Does
Wind cold Pain in the back of the head

Tight neck and shoulders

Aversion to cold

Nasal congestion

Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan (+ green tea) Drives wind from the head, clears heat, relieves aches, and prevents the condition from penetrating deeper into the body.
Wind heat Severe headache

Fever, sore throat, thirst, rapid pulse

Yin Qiao Jie Du Pian Halts the invasion of pathogenic influences and relieves the associated symptoms.

The common cold

The cold is the most common acute illness within the industrialized world. On average, young children develop 6-8 colds per year, and adults have 2-4 colds per year. In the U.S., the common cold results in 20 million days of absence from work, and 22 million days of absence from school each year.

Conventional approach:

Rest and fluid intake are suggested, along with cold remedies, which include decongestants and antihistamines. These remedies do not cure, but rather alleviate the symptoms.

Traditional Chinese medicine approach:

Plant-based medicines are used to induce sweating, seeking to expel the pathogens through the sweat. Pungent herbs target the lungs and are used to generate sweat, as well as to direct and vitalize qi and the blood.

There are five tastes used to classify Chinese herbs, one being pungent; the others are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Depending on the patient’s symptoms, the TCM doctor would observe the warm or the cold patterns of the common cold, and prescribe the herbs accordingly.

Warm and cold patterns, in the context of TMC, do not necessarily refer to the environment, but to the yin and yang aspects of a disease.

Rest and fluid intake are suggested, along with cold remedies that include decongestants and antihistamines. These remedies do not cure, but rather alleviate the symptoms. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The cold conditions are categorized with the feeling of coldness, a lowered immune response, lowered or static metabolic activity, a chill, and a decline in the speed of healing.

The hot conditions are related to excessive metabolic activity, fever, or inflammatory conditions. Cold symptoms improve with warming herbs; hot conditions improve with cooling herbs.

Honeysuckle and Forsythia Powder (銀 翹 散 yín qiào sàn) can also be used. It is used primarily for wind-heat colds. This formula has been around for hundreds of years and has a proven track record for treating colds and flu.

The writer of this story is not a medical professional, and the information that is in this story has been collected from reliable sources — every precaution has been taken to ensure its accuracy. The information provided is for general information purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional health care.

Like this article? Subscribe to our weekly email for more!     

  • Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

Most Popular