Ayurvedic Management of Chronic Colds, Flu, Ear Nose & Throat Problems

This protocol assumes that you do not have access to Ayurvedic clinical treatments. Please also note that this article may be too complex for the general public. If you have studied Ayurveda, you will be more familiar with the terms and basic concepts.

The main treatments are dietary, lifestyle and herbal. Treatment should begin with Langhana (reducing) then move towards Brimhana (nourishing).

FOUNDATION (DOSHA/AGNI/AMA)

#1 Balance the Doshas

Reduce causal Dosha accumulation in inner pathway + reduce/balance Bodaka/Avalabbaka.

Start with diet & lifestyle.

Diet should have most offending Kapha aggravating foods removed but also adapt to causal Dosha if it is not Kapha.

  • All animal and dairy foods should be stopped along with wheat and all sweeteners.
  • Any Ama forming food should be avoided.
  • Eat lightly. Fast if possible (if not too weak), otherwise cooked whole grains and steamed vegetables with spices is perfect.
  • Foods that are helpful: Cabbage, Garlic, Mustard greens, Onions, and Parsnips.

Adjustments may need to be made if the condition is more complex (i.e. if it includes more than just Kapha Vriddhi).

Cook with plenty of fresh ginger, garlic and turmeric. If Pitta is strongly aggravated, reduce the amount of garlic and ginger somewhat, keeping the turmeric.

Lifestyle:

Follow basic lifestyle advice, making sure that exercise and sleep are addressed, the look to remove any strongly Dosha-aggravating factors. High-stress, overwork, pollution (especially airborne), overstimulation, over or under exercise, extremely dry/humid or cold/hot environments (such as air conditioning at work). Look especially to define which Dosha is really driving or causing the condition.

Kapha is often a main symptom, it is locally aggravated (Bodaka Kapha). But to find the causal Dosha, look in particular at the function of inner pathway (hunger, digestion & elimination). If the causal Dosha is discovered, diet and lifestyle can be more precisely modified.

#2 Balance Jatharagni

If Agni is imbalanced, which is usually the case, use ginger tea decoction with appropriate spices mixed as per current state of Agni or Prakriti. This is part of Dosha Shamana Chikitsa called Dipana/Pachana. This simple remedy will also help to begin to internally digest and eliminate Ama (toxins) from the body (especially the G.I. tract).

#3 Remove Ama from the inner and outer pathways

In most cases, there will be a chronic Ama in inner and outer pathways. Confirm with standard Ayurvedic evaluation methods (tongue, pulse, elimination, assess causal factors etc).

Begin by removing Ama from inner pathway. Continue to use diet, either Ama reducing diet adapted to Prakriti OR a regime of day-long fasting as per Prakriti.

Specific herbs can be added to cleanse Ama from inner pathway that also reach more quickly into outer pathways. Ginger tea + spices will already help in this respect.

DISEASE SPECIFIC TREATMENTS

The above steps #1-3 are essentially the same for most chronic diseases or conditions.

In many cases, they can be enough to completely heal the condition. If this foundation protocol cannot be fully applied due to lifestyle constrains, or whenever there are other unfavourable factors (hereditary weakness, chronicity and severity of problem, weak constitution, depleted Ojas) it is wise to pursue additional treatments that specifically target the Roga (disease/condition) and the affected Dhatus/Srotas and their organs.

#4 Pranavahasrotas (channel that absorbs Prana, includes respiratory system)

  • Protect lungs and respiratory mucus membranes from the environment (air pollution etc).
  • Improve the circulation of Prana vayu.
  • Strengthen Pranavahasrotas.

These goals can be achieved using:

  • Pranayama (breathing practices)
  • Jala Neti (saline nasal cleanse)
  • Naysa (special herbal or plain oils applied into nostrils)
  • Herbal vapour inhalations
  • Prana Anuloman Snehana (special directional oil-massage of head and chest area)

#5 Balance/Remove Dosha/Ama/Mala from Rasa Dhatu / Lungs / ENT zone

Chronic Rasa Gata Kapha (excess mucus production and congestion) is the main Dhatu affliction in this disease. It will produce excess nasal mucus production, heaviness, dull aching in the sinus or throat or ear channels, low appetite, low constant fever. Other Doshas can become involved, especially Pitta which causes inflammation, swelling, burning soreness, high fever, yellow mucus. Vata can also be involved showing more signs of dryness, sudden streams of clear mucus, or very hard to extract scanty mucus (often alternating), variable fever that comes and goes, sudden shooting pain etc. If Vata is really involved at a causal level, there will be signs or suddenly changing nature to the symptoms, and many other signs of underlying Vata imbalance such as chronic dryness etc.

The main idea here is to ask what Dosha other than Kapha has become affected, or is the underlying cause of this chronic ENT condition. The way to do this is both to explore the symptoms during an acute phase of the condition, but also to explore the state of the Doshas in-between attacks. This process of discovering the underlying Doshic cause of a chronic disease cannot be easily learned without a practical training in Ayurveda, and without practicing it in daily life. It is the hardest part of being an Ayurvedic practitioner and takes time and experience to hone.

Now that we are dealing with the specific nature of Dosha aggravation in Rasa Dhatu, the ENT zone, and perhaps the lungs, it is no longer possible to give general one-size-fits-all advice. What can we say for certain?

First, we will need to pacify or purify the state of congested Dosha/Ama/Mala from Rasa Dhatu. Second we need to repair any damage that this has caused. This is a standard concept that applies to all chronic conditions: first reduce the intruding entity (Dosha/Ama/Mala) using Langhana therapies. Then re-build, strengthen, rejuvenate the damaged site using Brimhana therapies.

Remember, in this condition, the site concerned is Rasa Dhatu which includes the blood plasma and lymph which directly nourish and protect the respiratory passages, sinuses, Eustachian tubes and lungs.

Treatment modalities include those stated for Pranavahasrotas but also include:

  • Mild external Snehana (oleation) and Svedana (sudation)
  • Correct use of physical exercise
  • Diet that correctly nourishes and cleanses Rasa Dhatu. This may be important if there is pronounced dryness or unctuousness of the skin, in which case liquid consumption must be considered in more detail (quantity of liquids consumed as well as quality, temperature, unctuousness etc).

Therapeutic actions we are looking to consider via herbs or specific foods are:

  • Decongestant/expectorant/diaphoretic (mainly to remove congestion from Rasa by reducing Avalambaka and Bodhaka Kapha)
  • If there is high Pitta involved, then use ENT specifically anti-inflammatory and general febrifuges (these reduce high Pitta in the Rasa Dhatu and ENT zone)
  • If there is underlying Vata aggravation, need to add some demulcents to sooth dry irritated mucus membranes and lungs. These can be needed also if high Pitta is drying out Rasa Dhatu.
  • Anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal agents can be added to target the exogenous (external) vector of these group of conditions.
  • Anti-histamine action can be required if there is an allergic component diagnosed.

#6 Repair & Regenerate Rasa Dhatu / Lungs / ENT zone

This is the final stage of the protocol. It can be started once Ama has been reduced to a manageable level, i.e. when main signs or Ama are low or mild. The main point here is to provide proper nourishment to Rasa Dhatu so that it can be strong and healthy, and to maintain balanced Jatharagni. This is partially addressed in #5. There are numerous plants and foods that are known to function as effect lung / ENT tonics.

In addition, Shukra Dhatu and Ojas need to be increased to ensure optimal immunity. Note that immunity depends on Ojas, but also on a synergistic function of mainly Rasa, Rakta and Majja Dhatus. Prana vayu controls the immune response and solicits help from Dhatu Agnis (especially Rasa ana Rakta). Pitta and Kapha Doshas are responsible for helping to fabricate immunity cells in the body via these three Dhatus. Some foods and plants have been found to either stimulate or modulate immunity. Their way of doing varies. Adding these substances to the treatment can be useful when weak immunity remains after Dosha/Ama/Mala have been corrected. But don’t become hung up on the idea that weak immunity is a special condition all on its own, it is not. It is mainly the consequence of long term Dosha aggravation, Ama production polluting the body, and gradual reduction in the quality and function of Rasa, Rakta and Majja Dhatus combined with a confused function of Prana Vayu which in turn causes disproportional reactions or inadequate actions or the immune system.

So to summarise, for step #6 use:

  • Rasayana for Rasa Dhatu / Lung Tonics
  • Rasayana global that increase Ojas / Immuno-modulators

HERBAL FORMULATION

From the above protocol, especially from steps #3-6, we can design a herbal formula that includes plants to achieve the therapeutic actions desired, and which act most effectively on the Dhatus/Srotas/organs concerned. A formula should ideally be designed to suit the individual situation.

Here are some suggestions of plants to use in formulas:

Inula helenium (Elcampagne)

The best plant to control Avalambaka Kapha and

Regenerate lungs even if there is Ama present

Heating

-VK +P

Myrica cerifera (Bayberry)

Similar merits to Inula.

Heating

-VK +P

Arctium lappa (Burdock)

Especially good for Pittaja

Will purify and regenerate the blood

Lower inflammation

Cooling

-PK +V (in excess)

Euphrasia officinalis (Eyebright)

Especially good for Pittaja

Lower inflamation especially in eyes and sinuses

Include when allergy is a factor / provides anti-histamines

Cooling

-PK +V

Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettles)

Especially good for Pittaja

Include when allergy is a factor / provides anti-histamines

Cooling

-PK +V

Symphytum officinale (Comfrey)

Demulcent and tonic to lungs.

Use when underlying cause is Vata or Pitta to tonify lungs.

Useful in a small amounts in all cases as a harmonizer to the formula.

Cooling

-PV +K

Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice)

Demulcent and tonic to lungs.

Use when underlying cause is Vata or Pitta to tonify lungs.

Useful in a small amounts in all cases as a harmonizer to the formula.

Also an effective anti-viral agent

Cooling

-PV +K

Tabebuia impetiginosa (Pau d’arco)

Perhaps the best immuno-stimulator to use for Pitta and Kapha based problems. Smaller amounts OK in a formula for Vata problems.

A powerful anti-microbial adjunct to treatment

Cooling

-PK +V

Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha)

Perhaps the best immuno-stimulator to use for Vata and Kapha based problems. Smaller amounts OK in a formula for Pitta problems.

Heating

-VK +P (in excess)

Thymus vulgaris (Thyme)

A powerful anti-microbial adjunct to treatment

Especially if sore throat is often present

Heating

-VK +P

Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Cinnamon)

Warming

-VK +P (in excess)

Elettaria cardamomum (Cardamom)

Heating

-VK =P

Piper longum (Pippali)

Heating

-VK +P

Salvia officinalis (Sage)

Warming

-VK =P

Sambucus nigra (Black Elder)

Cooling

-PK +V

Terminalia belerica (Beleric myrobalan / Bibhitaki)

Heating

-KPV

Trigonella foenum-graecum (Fenugreek)

Heating

-VK +P

Zingiber officinale (Ginger)

Heating

-VK +P

Formulation has to studied. My teacher Atreya Smith has published an excellent book called Dravyaguna for Westerners. Other books exist also. Ayurvedic Healing for Women is also excellent and more affordable.

Alex Duncan.

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3 thoughts on “Ayurvedic Management of Chronic Colds, Flu, Ear Nose & Throat Problems

  1. Excellent protocol Alex, I especially like your candidates for an herbal formula. One thing that I’ve been reflecting on, though, is the role of non-dairy animal products in increasing Kapha dosha. Perhaps, as you say, that some persons with an apparent Kapha imbalance, actually have an underlying Vata imbalance and this is why they have good results with including some animal products. Charaka does prescribe some meat products during winter because of their heating quality. Anyway, would love to know your thoughts. Thanks!

    • With colds, flu and the like, it is best to avoid heavy animal products in meals. Sometimes, if the person is very weak, chicken broth or similar can help revive or maintain strength. Most people in the West consume too much animal based foods. This creates ama more quickly than plant based foods, which in turn lowers immunity etc, potentially causing more frequent colds. There is a big difference between farm reared animals and their milk and eggs versus wild, lean animals i.e. game. Of course, not such a good option for a overpopulated world. On the whole, I am in favour high plant-based diets with small amounts of animal foods.

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