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TCM Stages and Herbal Treatments for Coronavirus Infection

Written By Matthew Truhan, LAc on April 1, 2020

There are two main schools in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (Cold Damage and Warm Disease) that explain the stages of invasion of an external factor, which in Western parlance includes colds, flus, and the current progressions seen in the COVID-19 cases. Though differing in the causing evil, their progressions both start on the exterior and move internally. Here is a rundown of what has been documented so far in the progression of COVID-19. 

Influenza Stage of COVID-19

The early stages of disease in TCM, as have been reported in the field, have the hallmark sign of simultaneous fever and chills/aversion to cold; this is when, even though someone is hot and feverish, they are trying to bundle up because they are so chilled. In the very beginning, people have felt headache, muscle soreness, sore throat, and possibly night sweats or no sweat. At this point, herbal treatments are focused on the exterior: releasing the muscle layer and focusing on whether there is more heat (fever, night sweats) or cold (chills, no sweat) while using herbs that have antiviral properties.

The evil then penetrates slightly deeper. There is still the simultaneous hot and cold with worsening fever, but, if attacking the Lung, there is a dry cough with scanty sputum, along with worsening muscle fatigue, and continued headache. For some people, it will attack the Digestive organs of the Spleen and Stomach, leading to lack of taste, lack of appetite, diarrhea (Spleen disharmony), and nausea (Stomach disharmony). Treatment strategy in either of these cases is to continue releasing the exterior, while resolving dampness (phlegm production of the Lungs or the excess fluid of the diarrhea represent evil dampness) that has been produced. 

Pneumonia Stage of COVID-19

If not stopped at this level, the evil will penetrate to the interior. As it progresses, the reported symptoms turn to an alternating hot and cold (fever and not wanting to be covered, followed by times when the chills require covering), dry mouth with bitter taste, worsening chest and epigastric stuffiness, irritability and increase in weakness. This is where that chest tightness becomes worse and breathing becomes more difficult. This is a transition stage where the treatment is to push the heat back out through the exterior, while draining heat that has made its way into the interior. Beyond this stage, the evil is fully penetrated to the interior.

In the next stage, there is no more chill or cold aversion; there is only possible presence of continued fever. There is continued dry cough with scanty sputum, chest stuffiness, fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite along with possible digestive symptoms of nausea and vomiting, and loose bowel movements. With heat fully inside, the herbal treatment is to clear the internal heat and phlegm accumulation of the Lung (and Spleen/Stomach if necessary).

As the heat continues to cook, the phlegm becomes thicker. As the cough continues, there is a stifling sensation of the chest now with wheezing and asthma that is worse on exertion and accelerated respiration. There is also thirst and irritability. The patient may be requiring hospitalization at this point if respiration is too difficult. The TCM treatment at this point is to treat heat toxicity of the Lu and Qi-Ying level, and break up and dispel phlegm.

At the most severe stage, the heat has begun to damage the deepest, blood level and harm is done to the spirit. There is mental incoherence, burning heat in the middle with cold extremities and the respiration is extremely accelerated and requires assistance. By this stage, any patient would be in a hospital, and though the herbal focus would be on clearing the toxic heat and, as the strategy says, consolidate the abandoned and rescue reversal, this patient would be a ventilation and not taking Chinese herbs.

TCM treatments for Cold, Flu, and other viruses

In the theory of TCM, we are not treating the virus itself, but attempting to alter the internal environment based on the signs and patterns that are occurring. This means that, even not having COVID-19, the above symptoms can be treated in similar fashions with similar Chinese formulas. This is not to say that Chinese Herbs do not have antiviral properties (in fact, many do), but their strategies were based on a different look at the body and its interaction with nature. Treatments in TCM are always more successful the earlier in the progression you are able to treat; please keep this in mind during this time, or anytime you may be feeling the beginnings of a cold. 

The progression of COVID-19 and the intensity of symptoms should not be taken lightly. Though Chinese Medicine has been battling epidemics for centuries, this current iteration has the benefit of not only having traditional medicine but also western medical strategies to help with treatment and recovery. If you are having any of the above symptoms, here are recommendations from Deschutes County as to what you should do. Once you have been in touch with your doctor, you can email me here and let me know what stage/symptoms you are having and I will get herbal formulas prepared and to you ASAP. 

Be safe, stay home, save lives! Please let me know if I can be of service to you!


Posted In: Acupuncture Immune