Acupuncture for Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are one of the most common of health problems; most people will have at least one incidence in a given year, whether it be a common cold, the ‘flu, bronchitis, sinusitis or laryngitis. Usually symptoms last for a few days as the body‘s immune system deals with the infection, which in most cases is caused by a virus (antibiotics are of no use in these situations). However, sometimes symptoms may be harder to shake off and there may be a cough and long lasting fatigue afterwards, especially in people who do not take time to recover properly. Some people also suffer recurrent bouts of infection.

Occasionally in weakened individuals, such infections can develop into more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

In most cases, conventional treatment of these infections is aimed at symptomatic relief.

Respiratory Infections in TCM

To some extent the way respiratory infections are seen in TCM mirrors western medical ideas – symptoms are ascribed to an invading pathogen which is hopefully fought off by the individual’s defence system, which is called Wei Qi (pronounced way chee). TCM treatment at the acute stage of an infection does not confine itself to symptomatic relief but also aims to both expel the pathogen and bolster the Wei Qi.

Expelling the pathogen is achieved with acupuncture perhaps combined with cupping or Gua Sha treatment applied to the upper back, which is often highly effective at expelling the pathogen and promoting respiratory function, thus speeding recovery.

In cases where there are recurrent bouts of symptoms, or where symptoms prove unusually tenacious, it may be that the pathogen has become lodged within the individual and/or that the defensive system of the Wei Qi is compromised. In these cases the TCM clinician, through careful questioning and examination, will come to an understanding of just how this is happening. For instance, it might be that  an individual’s Wei Qi is depleted because of  a weakness in their digestive system, and that an invading pathogen has led to the accumulation of phlegm in their respiratory tract, manifesting as a blocked nose, headache and wheezing with occasionally productive coughing. In such a case acupuncture treatment, along with specific dietary advice and appropriate exercise, will be used to resolve the phlegm and restore the digestive function. As this example hopefully illustrates, it is important to approach treatment holistically and not to focus solely on the most obvious symptoms.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Respiratory Infections?

A 2004 randomised controlled trial1 of 326 patients to investigate the preventative and curative effects of acupuncture on the common cold demonstrated a significantly positive effect of acupuncture treatment.


1. Kawakawa K. et al (2004) Preventive and curative effects of acupuncture on the common cold: a multicentre randomized controlled trial in Japan Complementary Therapies in Medicine Volume 12, Issue 4 , Pages 181-188, December 2004


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

©2020 by The Sean Barkes Clinic