If you are staying in China for an extended period of time, you are likely to get sick at some point, whether it is a cold during the Typhoon season in Southern provinces, or the winter sniffles in Shanghai. Maybe the pollution will get to you in Beijing and you will get a respiratory infection and need to get some antibiotics. Whatever the reasons, there is also a high likelihood that you will get a bad stomach within the first 6 weeks in China either down to the change of diet or food poisoning (Try finding hand soap in public / restaurant toilets.. likely the same place kitchen staff go for their toilet breaks, just think about that point!).
It's a hard thing to find the right drugs when you have just arrived, as there are literally no imports of western medicine and many drugs we take for granted in the west are banned from import. You will however find this guide very useful in what to ask for when you get unwell. The medicine for anything from stomach problems to respiratory infections are easy to get hold of and cheap. You just need to know what to look & ask for!
Getting a Respiratory Infection / Severe Sore Throat in China:
I don't know where I got my cough and sore throat from, but I know that Beijing didn't make it any better! The smog was approaching the 300 AQI from US Embassy information. Which is ridiculously unhealthy even for a few days exposure. I can't fathom how the locals cope, I think you must get used to it (human bodies adapt pretty well in harsh conditions) and use air purifiers in the home and offices. As soon as I couldn't speak anymore, I knew it had gone too far to leave it to get better on it's own. At the Airport I bought some antibiotics and throat lozenges as I just couldn't take the discomfort any longer.
Chinese-Western Medicine You Can Buy in China:
Cefuroxime Axetil (头孢呋辛酯)
Cefuroxime Axetil is a western antibiotic medicine that is available to buy under many different branded labels in China. It will either come in 250mg or 125mg tablet form. For a moderate throat infection / chest infection take a 250mg tablet twice a day with a meal (lunch & dinner preferably). If you buy the 125mg variety, just take 2 tablets twice a day with a meal instead.
This medicine only work for bacterial infections, so Google what viral vs. bacterial symptoms are like to be sure. Take them as a 7 day treatment (14 tablets) and don't stop early and avoid missing dosages.
Chinese Herbal Lozenges for mild sore throats
They sell these in all pharmacies, just point to your neck and they will show a selection of herbal lozenges for sale. They may not seem worthwhile but they really help get rid of the sore throat temporarily. This is probably the only herbal remedy I could recommend actually worked in China.
Common Cold Medicine in China (Familiar Western Brands)
Used for Colds, Influenza, Aching, Sore Throats, Sneezing, Running Nose, Coughing, etc..
Getting rid of Headaches & Fever in China
In the west (well at least the UK) pain killers are available everywhere.. at the checkout in Boots, Tesco & all supermarkets, petrol stations and convenience stores. Maybe we have a problem with chronic headaches in England? In China the only place you can buy painkillers is the pharmacy and it's not always easy to find because it's used for different indications than we use it for. So the Chinese use it for back & body pains, rather than just headaches. It is also mostly generics available as well. Whatever you get shown / given in the pharmacy when asking for it, just make sure it only has ibuprofen in and nothing else.
Medicine & Remedies for a Bad Stomach & Diarrhoea in China
The rule of thumb goes you will get a bad stomach within the first 6 weeks of being in China, call it Travellers Diarrhoea or Mao's Revenge.. It may just creep up on you and leave you feeling a little uneasy about what you are eating!
Not to fear, as on first glance and reading online you might think you are stuck in a foreign country without the western medicine (Pepto-Bismol) is not available anywhere in China. China actually has better stuff and it's not that herbal mumbo-jumbo stuff either!
So I like to divide this section into parts, firstly treatment for killing any bacterial infections in your gut / intestines is imperative. Next you need to hydrate better, with rehydration salts then as you kill the infection start making everything go tick tock again.
1. How to get rid of food poisoning & Diarrhoea quickly in China:
Use: SMECTA Montmorillonite Powder (蒙脱石散)
Take 2 sachets of SMECTA at first signs of upset stomach, then take an additional sachet 3-4 times a day until the tummy grumbles and other symptoms go away.
2. Rehydrate yourself and avoid a hospital IV drip in China with:
Oral Rehydration Salts Powder for treating Diarrhoea in China (口服补液盐粉)
The Chinese stuff is heavy duty and really designed for severe illness. Taking half a packet with 200ml of water, then the other half later on in the day is advisable. This will help you avoid having to go to the Hospital for an IV drip (standard treatment for food poisoning in China).
3. Reduce troublesome symptoms of discomfort and frequency of toilet trips with:
Berbine Hydrochloride (盐酸小檗碱)
Clear damp heat and eliminate toxic heat. Broad-spectrum antibiotic, anti-inflammatory. Use for damp heat and toxic heat disorders, especially those affecting the gastrointestinal system and lungs. Especially effective against bacterial dysentery. May be useful for fungal infections and as an adjunct treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis. Also for suppurative sores, carbuncles, conjunctivitis, stye, otitis, acne, mastitis, intestinal abscess.
Take 1-3 tablets of this medicine each time and 3 times a day.
4. Mild symptoms of tummy upset can be slowed with:
Yes they sell the same Imodium in China as in the West. Its also a lot cheaper than the west, but only comes in small packs. This is obviously the last stage of treatment after clearing the infection and after you are feeling better. Don't use it at all with full on food poisoning, as your body will just ignore it as it's trying to clear the infection.
Treating Heartburn & Indigestion in China
I won't go into this one, as most Chinese people seem to get it A LOT. Why do I think this? Well it's sold everywhere and they have large sections dedicated to it. Just look for boxes with a tummy picture on it.