Is Your Cold Hot or Cold?

I was asked that the other day when I went to a pharmacy to buy medicine for my cold (I’m currently having a bad cold; what I usually do is take some paracetamol and Chinese medicine called Ganmaoling (感冒灵) which contains some herbs and some doses of modern cold remedies; in Poland we have this saying that a cold takes seven days to heal if you treat it, and takes one week when you don’t treat it… so I always do the same things when I catch a cold).

So when I went into a pharmacy, I got this question. To which I replied:

-“I don’t know.”

– “You don’t know?” with dismay saying “How can you not know?!”

And I’m like, you know, Western medicine doesn’t have this concept, I always take this medicine and I’m fine, etc. etc. but then she proceeded to ask me about my symptoms, and I didn’t really want to engage, because I was feeling like crap and just wanted my medicine. I don’t really feel good about it but often you just have to quarrel/ignore/struggle with pharmacists to get what you came for (the other problem is that they often will try to sell you more expensive medication). So after a while, I quickly snatched what I came for and then left.

Later, in a way that is completely common when a cold is going into its later stages, my stuffy nose became unbearable and prevented me from sleeping at night as I had to wipe it all the time. So the next day I went back to the pharmacy to get some nasal spray.

I had the bad luck to encounter the same pharmacist. I tried to act cool and asked for a nasal spray; unfortunately, she did remember me from the previous day and wasn’t going to let it go.

-“Oh! Didn’t you but the paracetamol and Ganmaoling yesterday? Did it not help?

-“No, but I don’t think it would have helped in one day anyway” I said.

-“No no, no, it’s because you took the wrong medicine, for the other type of cold, if you took the other one you would’ve been cured!” – it was the moment of her triumph.

On the bright side, the pharmacist did not try to change my mind about getting nasal drops, and I managed to get them rather smoothly, after only a few attempts from her to convince me to buy ones 3 times as expensive as those I ended up getting.

But that got me thinking. What is this hot and cold thing? It wasn’t the first time I heard about it but I have never looked into that. Was I really jeopardizing my recovery process because I was taking the wrong medicine?!

I decided to take things to Baidu. Quick research showed me that another name for a cold in Chinese is 伤风 (shāngfēng) meaning harmful wind. And there is cold wind and hot wind that can cause you trouble.

The symptoms of a cold resulting from “cold wind” are: stuffed nose, sneezing, cough, headache, feeling cold despite increased body temperature, feeling tired, no increased thirst and no increased sweating. This type of cold is caused by exposure to cold temperature, wind chills and happens when a person is weakened from lack of rest, too much stress etc.

Hot cold can be caused by hot temperature, for instance when one wears too little in the summer! Or from experiencing a big difference in temperatures, for instance when going out of a cold room (with AC) or a cold car into the hot summer air.

And the symptoms of a cold caused by “hot wind” are: significantly raised temperature, thirst, strong headache, wet cough etc. and supposedly are a bit more serious than the other type of cold.

Reading about those things quickly sent me down the rabbit hole of clicking and checking out one thing after another, and I was soon reading forum posts, articles etc., but to be honest there’s so much to it… For instance, I started thinking – is “hot” cold just “our” flu? Well, it’s difficult to establish that, since common cold being a result of “cold” and “hot” wind is a concept from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the distinction between a cold and the flu is a concept from modern (Western) medicine. From what I’ve seen, some people stress that there’s no point into trying to fit flu into the hot and cold concept because of the Chinese/Western distinction, some say that there is a difference between a “hot” cold and a flu because “to give out heat” (发热 fārè) that happens during a cold can point to internal heat (Chinese concept) and to have a fever (发烧 fāshāo) during a flu when you can feel that someone’s body temperature is high are not the same thing etc. etc.

On a side note, I must say that it seems to me that paracetamol is considered to be THE SINGLE MOST dangerous medicine in China . I never get as many questions as when I want to buy paracetamol (and by the way, the dosage in China is smaller anyway; in Poland, one pill usually contains 500 mg, while in China only 250g; also, you cannot buy it in supermarkets and convenience stores like in Poland, only in pharmacies).

For instance, on the third day of my cold, I needed to go to a pharmacy again and decided to switch to another one to avoid the nosy/triumphant pharmacist. It was not a good idea.

Firstly, the lady told me they don’t have any paracetamol. At all. I’m like: seriously? You don’t have such common medicine as paracetamol in here? (and by the way, in China there are many companies that manufacture paracetamol, it’s not like you cannot find it.) She said they didn’t and was trying to convince me to buy some Chinese herbal medicine (蒲地蓝消炎片 Pŭdìlán xiāoyànpiàn). I walked around the pharmacy and found paracetamol myself. Then got some more Ganmaoling. Then I had to listen to the pharmacist warning me time and again not to take Ganmaoling together with paracetamol because Ganmaoling already contained it (for her it was also proving that I didn’t need to buy paracetamol at all). Then I agreed to buy the Chinese herbal medicine because the lady was very persistent and I thought, whatever. I feel horrible, what harm can it do?

I also remember once when I was riding a night bus from Shenzhen to Nanning (a few years ago). It was rather cold and I didn’t have much to do anyway, so I was sleeping for the whole trip (around 11-12 hours as I recall). I didn’t drink much water because I wanted to avoid having to go to a bathroom (I’m not sure how that would work on a night bu). So as a result, I arrived in Nanning severely dehydrated and suffering from a huge, pounding headache. I didn’t have any pills on me, so I directed my first steps toward a pharmacy.

Then the questions started:

“Why do you want paracetamol? What seems to be the problem?”

I’m having a headache”.

Did you not get enough sleep at night?”

No, I think I slept too much”

*consternation*

And then “Just don’t take too much of this stuff!” and mandatory “make sure to drink more hot water” and I got my pills.

I mean, I get it – rather than just treating the symptom (a headache) they want to find out what the underlying cause is and treat that. But still, sometimes I just take a pill and get on with my life.

Anyways, next time I have a cold I will try to find out if it’s “hot” or “cold”, treat it accordingly and see what happens!

See you!

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