The common cold, for instance, is probably so called because it was thought to originate with cold air getting into your system. After all, people seem to catch colds more in winter. In TCM the onset of a common cold might well be described as an invasion of Wind-Cold or Wind-Cold-Damp into the lungs (although to complicate matters, it might be Wind-Heat!). Treatment – perhaps a combination of acupuncture, cupping and herbal medicine - then aims to expel these invading pathogens and bolster the body’s innate defence system, called in TCM the Wei Qi (‘defensive’ Qi) , which corresponds roughly to the western idea of the immune system.
Modern medicine, however, has identified the cause of the common cold as one of a number of viruses, and thus tends to poo poo the idea that exposure to the cold has anything at all to do with it. People catch colds more in winter, it is thought, because they (allegedly) gather together more indoors in winter, and thus transmit the viruses more readily. I remember reading a gripping account of Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole at the start of the last century, which recounted how, despite the very cold weather, no one caught a cold; it was just too cold for the viruses to survive.
This perhaps seems to relegate the traditional Chinese view to being an old wives tail tale. However, recent research suggests that exposure to low temperatures may in fact make us more vulnerable to cold viruses as our immune system becomes less efficient at fighting them. It seems like the temperature of the nose, in particular, is a key factor. So if your granny advised you to wrap up well in cold weather, perhaps even with a scarf to cover your nose and mouth, maybe she knew what she was on about after all. The common cold may indeed be caused by a virus, but the cold weather might be making us more susceptible to that virus. In fact, given that it appears that about one in five of us are carrying the most widespread common cold virus in our nasal passages at any one time, it might well be that the key factor in protecting against catching a common cold is keeping ourselves warm.