Judy Bowen-Jones

Colds & Flu, Immune System

A cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper respiratory tract.

It can cause a blocked nose followed by a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and a cough. Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses. In healthy adults, a cold will usually last for about a week as the body fights off the infection.

A cold can be spread through direct contact, so if you sneeze or cough, tiny droplets of fluid containing the cold virus are launched into the air and can be inhaled by others, or by indirect contact. For example if you sneeze onto a door handle and someone else touches the handle a few minutes later, they may catch the cold virus if they then touch their mouth or nose. So it’s important to wash your hands regularly, sneeze into a tissue and use paper towels (rather than shared towels) to help prevent the spread of infection. Typically you first become contagious two to three days before your symptoms begin, and remain contagious until all your symptoms have gone. Most people will be contagious for around two weeks.

About Flu

Flu or influenza is also caused by viruses and spread by coughs and sneezes. But the symptoms are usually more severe, come on more rapidly and last longer than for a common cold. Typical symptoms include a fever, headache, tiredness and fatigue, aches and pains or a dry, chesty cough.

If you’re generally healthy, there’s usually no need to see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms.

There are no cures for colds and flu. The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to keep well hydrated. The NHS advises staying off work or school until you’re feeling better. For most people, this will take about a week. If your symptoms persist for more than three weeks, you have a high temperature (fever) of 39°C (102.2°F), you cough up blood-stained phlegm (thick mucus), have chest pain or problems breathing seek medical attention.


There is little research about the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of acute symptoms of the common cold. It may help relieve symptoms of colds and flu by regulating immune function, releasing endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers) and reducing inflammation and swelling.

A World Health Organization review of controlled acupuncture clinical trials (2003) listed sore throat (including tonsillitis) among symptoms for which the therapeutic benefit of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed.

Treating Colds & Flu

“If you have a cold or flu it’s important to rest and allow your body’s natural immunological healing mechanisms to work. By staying at home you also reduce the spread of the disease. They won’t thank you at work if you give your cold to everyone else! Increasing numbers of people are being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome following viral infections, such as flu, likely because they didn’t have sufficient rest to allow their body to recover properly from the infection.

If you suffer repeated coughs and colds you may find it beneficial to have regular preventative acupuncture treatments to help boost your immune system and address any underlying imbalances. Some people find that having acupuncture every 3 months at the time the time of the changing of the seasons helps reduce their vulnerability to coughs and colds.

If you are suffering from very acute cold or flu symptoms it’s best to stay at home and rest and come for acupuncture once the acute phase has passed to expedite your recovery.”


Backer, M & Hammes, M (2010). Acupuncture in the Treatment of Pain, An Integrative Approach. Elsevier

Maciocia, G. 2005. The Practice of Chinese Medicine. Painful Obstruction Syndrome. 561-604. Churchill Livingstone

Research Fact Sheets

For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.