Is It My Allergies or Is It a Cold

This will be a brief article discussing the concept of causality in Chinese medicine, specifically in relationship to sinus conditions. For a more complete discussion, please see Causality in Chinese Medicine – The Issues of How and Why. I have chosen to discuss this issue again here as I find sinus conditions to be one of the most prevalent for which people attempt to identify causality.

Is it my allergies or is it a cold? Is it my sinuses or is it a migraine? Is it pollen or is it dust? The list of questions people develop to ascertain the cause of their allergy symptoms is endless. Some people frame it in terms of body parts (such as head or sinuses), some people frame it according to allergen (such as dust or pollen), and some according to symptom (such as pain or congestion). In all cases, what is apparent is the confusion between disease, symptom, mechanism, and cause.

For example, allergic rhinitis is a disease category (technically, it is a Western biomedical disease category; a corresponding Chinese disease category might be bi yuan, or deep nasal congestion). Symptoms may include sneezing, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and headache. Mechanism (according to Chinese medicine) may include Spleen Dampness and depressive Liver Heat. And cause is always according to the three categories of interior / emotions, exterior / weather, and neither interior nor exterior / diet and lifestyle. These might correlate respectively with anger, Wind, and ingestion of greasy foods.

Body parts do not cause symptoms, body parts do not cause other body parts, symptoms do not cause other symptoms, and substances are not a cause of disease. These are non-negotiable issues in Chinese medicine. What matters is the presentation. Proper assessment of presentation (signs and symptoms) using the ten methods of pattern discrimination is what leads to proper understanding of disease, mechanism, and cause.

It is my experience that people fight this notion. Advertising does not help, and here is an example of this. A person complains of sneezing, coughing, and sore throat. In Western medicine, these symptoms are quickly lumped together as a cold, and then people go out and buy something like Tylenol Cold and Sinus. What is this name supposed to mean? There isn’t even a verb in it, so there is no indication of its action or what it does. In Chinese medicine the peculiarities of each symptom, along with other diagnostic information would be evaluated. An appropriate disease category, patterns of imbalance, and treatment would then be determined. There might be differing remedies for each person who is sick. The point I am trying to make is that illogical assumptions about the causality of symptoms can only lead to poor treatment.