Winter has arrived, which means the return of the usual host of seasonal ailments. But as well as the colds, fevers, and sniffles we are all used to, Beijing’s air creates other problems like dry skin and dry hair. Add to these the risk of over-eating at the Christmas table and you are likely to find yourself at the pharmacy more often than usual, especially if you have kids.
But in China there is not a single, unified approach to these common health complaints. Although there remains some skepticism within the scientific community about its effectiveness, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) remains hugely popular locally, both on its own and in combination with western treatments.
Chinese medicine shops have spread across Europe and North American and western pharmaceutical companies are committing increasing resources towards researching, developing, and marketing these natural treatments. Whether this is because of their power to heal or the potential for profit is difficult to ascertain, but many people in Beijing, both local and expats, continue to turn to the herbal remedies and traditional treatments advocated by TCM practitioners.
So as the days get shorter, colder, and more germ-ridden, we asked two Beijing-based doctors – one pediatrician and one TCM expert – what they considered to be effective cures for winter ailments.
*Some of these answers have been abbreviated and may not always include every recommendation made by each doctor.
** We asked both doctors to provide child-appropriate treatments, but you should always read the label or consult a health professional before giving children medicine. Because TCM remedies are tailored to each patient, Dr. Huang also recommends consulting an expert before embarking on any course of treatment.
As told by Dr. Xiaoping Meng, GP and chief pediatrician at Hong Kong International Medical Clinic, Beijing
“A cough often happens because of a respiratory tract infection or an allergy. Mucosolvan [an ambroxol-based brand]can effectively alleviate this symptom. Drink more water and eat light [meals]at ordinary times. See a doctor if the cough has still not [cleared up]after one week. ”
”Some mouth lozenges may be taken to ease a sore throat. The weather in Beijing is very dry, so using an air humidifier to keep air moist is very important. Other ways to reduce the chance of getting a sore throat include drinking more water, quitting smoking, drinking less [alcohol], and avoiding spicy food. If the sore throat is accompanied by a high fever, see a doctor.”
“The most common causes of [a]running nose are [the common]cold and rhinitis. Many comprehensive cold medicines (such as [acetaminophen-based brand] Tylenol Cold) may alleviate this symptom. If the symptom [persists]for more than two weeks, see a doctor.”
Fever, aches and pains,flu-like symptoms
“Paracetamol or ibuprofen can effectively alleviate influenza-like symptoms such as fever and aches. Patients should drink more water, [get]more rest, and see a doctor if the fever lasts longer than three days.
“It is dry in autumn and winter. [You] can effectively relieve dry skin by using some mild moisturizing cream after getting out of the shower. Drinking more water and using a humidifier can have certain [positive]effects as well.”
“Do not frequently perm and dye your hair. Using hair conditioner or a hair mask can keep the hair soft, shiny, and manageable. Do not use a hair drier too close to your hair or blow it too dry. Avoid [lengthy periods of]exposure to the sun.”
Digestion problems (from overeating)
“You can effectively [cure]the dyspepsia caused by gastrointestinal disturbance by taking [bacterial remedies such as]Biofermin and other medicines. In addition, some [relief]can be achieved with a moderate abdominal massage and taking a walk after meals.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
“This disease possibly relates to the amount of light exposure and is [characterized]by depression, anxiety, [listlessness], and so on. It usually happens more often in autumn and winter. Phototherapy [light therapy]is very effective. Spend more time with family members and friends, go outside, and do some simple exercise. Also getting more sunlight is helpful.”
“Avoid going to crowded public places. Get regular exercise, keep a healthy diet, reduce the intake of alcohol and cigarettes, drink more water, wash [your]hands frequently, and get adequate sleep. Be sure to keep warm.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine
As told by Dr. Frank Huang, TCM expert at Oasis International Hospital
Chesty cough; Sore throat; Runny nose; Fever, achesand pains,flu-like symptoms
“In Chinese medicine we would treat all of these symptoms as part of the same problem. There are some herbal treatments I would suggest – purple perilla, ledebouriella seseloides, and mulberry leaf – but it depends on the condition of each patient. We normally perform a physical examination. Each person is different, so we might ask whether they want warm or cold water to assess their [internal temperature].”
Acupuncture may also help. Dr. Huang points to a number of acupuncture points, including some on the back of the neck and the wrist. There are further TCM treatments that he recommends for specific symptoms:
“For a sore throat, we can bleed [from the skin around the nail on]the thumb and forefinger with a 0.3cm needle. Cupping can be used to treat a cough if the patient has had it for a long time, say [persistently]for a year.”
“Keeping the skin warm can help, as can [the herb]Angelica sinesis. Also, try making a soup with pig or sheep bones, caraway, Chinese green onion, ginger and a little pepper. The inside of the bones contains fat that can help the skin produce oil.”
“Hair [is linked]to the kidney and is closely associated with how it functions. Temperature [is also important], and the hair will be a little warmer [and drier]if the skin underneath is too hot. Try taking some fleeceflower root.”
Digestion problems (from overeating)
“This type of stomach issue can happen if the hydrochloric acid level is too high and the PH level is not right – you want it at about one to two [on the PH scale]. I suggest hawthorn for digestion problems. Herbal laxatives can also help; you can make an [effective treatment]by preparing a tea from the hair found on [a cob of]sweet corn.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
“We have lots of sunshine here, which is a big help. It’s good to be awake for a long time [during daylight hours]. It is important that you always do something – stay active and exercise. Cyperus is a good herbal treatment and acupuncture can also help with a sad heart and angry [feelings]– we can use acupuncture points on the chest and feet.”
“You can strengthen your immune system through [measures like]healthy eating and sleeping, and going to the toilet regularly. Regular habits are, along with healthy thinking, the two parts to remaining well.”
Oasis International Hospital 明德医院
Dr. Frank Huang operates from the TCM Department at Oasis International Hospital, where he provides a variety of treatments, including acupuncture, cupping, and herbal remedies. Doctors can, upon request, co-manage patients with the hospital’s western medicine specialists in fields like fertility, insomnia, pain management, and orthopedics. Dr. Huang offers consultations in Chinese and English, though the hospital can arrange for a translator for other languages at no additional cost.
Daily 24hrs (emergency care), Mon-Fri 9am- 6pm, Sun 8.30-12.30am. 9 Jiuxianqiao Beilu, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District (400 876 2747) www.oasishealth.cn 朝阳区朝阳区酒仙桥北路9号
Hong Kong International Medical Clinic, Beijing 北京港澳国际医务诊所
Dr. Xiaoping Meng has been working at Hong Kong International Medical Clinic since 2004, and has experience in diagnosis and treatment of child diseases, immunization, nutrition and child development. The clinic the first joint-venture medical organization in Beijing to offer a 24hr helpline with medical support in English, Chinese, and Japanese, with other languages on request. A basic consultation costs RMB 680 with direct billing for over 50 international insurers.
Daily 9am-9pm (nurse on duty after 9pm). 9/F, Swissôtel Office Tower, 2 Chaoyangmen Beidajie, Dongcheng District (6553 2288 ext 2345/6/7, 6553 9752) www.hkclinic.com 朝阳门北大街2号港澳中心瑞士酒店办公楼9层
Photo: Patrick Denker (Flickr)
This article originally appeared on p24-27 of the beijingkids December 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com