Self-Medicating & Shanghai Pharmacy Guide


A common dilemma for expats, especially newcomers, is how many bottles of cough syrup and packets of paracetamol to bring back after every home visit. Yi Jun Fang, Associate Pharmacy Manager at Shanghai United Family Hospital, assures us it’s not necessary to fit an entire medicine cabinet in our suitcase, especially over-the-counter medicines. “Bring sufficient supplies of essential medication, such as treatment for blood pressure, Type II diabetes or asthma, but rest as- sured, most other medicines are available here.”

Can I use my prescription from home?

Pharmacies in China cannot fill a prescription from a doctor in your home country. “For any prescription medication, you will need a new prescription from a licensed doctor in China. It’s helpful to bring your current prescription to any new doctor as a reference. Medication is usually filled by the pharmacy located within the hospital where the physician practices. Local drug stores and pharmacies on the street tend not to stock prescription medications,” said Yi Jun.

What about my preferred brands of medication?

nternational healthcare providers carry most of the common medi- cines used overseas, or their equivalent local brands. “There may be a more limited range of medicine strengths, oral contraceptive pills, and palatable, easy-to-eat children’s medications. There is also a strong possibility of only one of each kind of drug available,” she explains.

Yi Jun advises that certain life-saving medicines are not readily avail- able in China, like EpiPen self-injectable epinephrine kits for people at risk of anaphylactic shock, and Glucagon self-injectable kits for those at risk of hypoglycemia. Be sure to bring these items with you, if they are needed. Other specific products you may have difficulty finding include Benadryl, Capsaisin, 81mg baby aspirin, muscle rub, Tri-vi-sol, and vitamin drops for children aged 3 and under (except Vit D3 drops).

How can I safely dispose of unwanted medication?

Use medication disposal services at international clinics to avoid environmental damage from flushing unused or expired medicines, or potential health risks from reselling on the black market.

Minor illnesses and pains can usually be treated with medicines most expats bring from home, but what if their supply suddenly runs out? Pharmacies in Shanghai can be very daunting, given the un- familiar language and abundance of medicine lining the shelves. To help navigate through the confusion and find the familiar remedies you need, here is a helpful list of over-the-counter equivalents to Western medicines.

Common Cold

白加黑 bái jiā hēi

The equivalent of DayQuil and NyQuil, Bai Jia Hei treats cold and flu symptoms with two types of pills: white for non-drowsy daytime relief and black for nighttime to help you sleep.

泰诺 taì nuò

Not only popular in the West, Tylenol remains a favorite with the Chinese as well. It can be used as a pain reliever, fever reducer and decongestant. It can also treat the common cold and the flu. Make sure you ask for the right kind, though – pain relief (止痛 zh tòng), sinus congestion (鼻塞 bí saī) or common cold (感冒 gàn mào). For those who prefer aspirin (阿司匹林asīp lín) it is usually available too.


开瑞坦 kāi ruì tàn

Claritin treats allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose, itchy eyes, as well as itchy skin and other skin symptoms. This US-based product is known for its decongesting and non-drowsy effects, and is available in Chinese pharmacies.

Joint / Body / Muscle Pain

Red Flower Oil – 正红花油 zhèng hóng huā yóu

Red Flower Oil stops back, joint, and muscle pain, as well as inflammatory swelling, bleeding and numbness of the limbs. It also helps provide relief for sprains, bruises, cuts, burns and mosquito bites.

Bronchitis / Cough

惠菲宁 huì fēi níng

Robitussin’s Chinese brand, Hui Fei Ning, provides relief for those with a persistant cough by alleviating inflammation. The honey- flavored syrup is a household necessity for all.

Cuts / Scrapes / Burns

Rivanol Trauma Cream – 利凡诺创伤膏 lì fán nuò chuāngshāng gāo

Perhaps the closest thing you can find in China to Neosporin is Rivanol Trauma Cream, which sterilizes and disinfects skin wounds. After thoroughly cleaning the wound, grab some Band-aids ( bāng dí 邦迪 or chuàng kě tiē 创可贴).

Headache / Fever

Ibuprofen Capsules – 布洛芬胶囊 bù luò fēn jiāonáng

Handy capsule Ibuprofen can relieve mild to moderate pain, such as headaches, joint pain, migraine, toothache and muscle pain. It can also be used to alleviate fever caused by the common cold or the flu.


斯达舒 sī dá shū

The closest thing to Tums in Chinese pharmacies, and on the mar- ket since 1998, this antacid alleviates the discomfort associated with heartburn, stomachaches and bloating. In 2005, it was even deemed China’s Trademark Stomach Medicine by the Chinese State Administration of Industries.

Motion Sickness

途爽晕车贴 tú shu ng yùnchē tiē

If you’re prone to motion sickness, then you’ve got to get the Clear Route Carsickness Patch. It prevents nausea or dizziness when you get carsick, airsick or seasick.


蒙脱石散 méng tuō shí sàn

The closest equivalent to Pepto-Bismol, this powder provides relief to those with an upset stomach or diarrhea. It also helps ease abdominal pain for those with various stomach illnesses.

Vitamins / Supplements

自然之宝 zìrán zhī báo

Nature’s Bounty produces a line of vitamins and supplements for all needs. Their products include a multivitamin, Vitamin B and Vitamin C.


  1. I came in Shanghai in 2008 as a teacher at a local high school.

    While teaching, i learned a lot about asian culture and various chinese-isms. But one of my most memorable experiences was a time when i sprained my ankle playing ultimate frisbee and was sent to the school doctor (who i was told spoke excellent English). This was my first and ONLY time going to a doctor trained in Chinese Medicine. I told him my situation and with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, he grabbed some iodine and rubbed it on my ankle (IODINE is a disinfectant!! How is that supposed to help a broken bone?!) then he wrapped my leg loosely in a cheap bandage.

    A friend of mine, DC, had a similar experience with the same doctor. DC had cut his knee pretty badly and obviously needed stitches. He figured he would see the free campus doctor before forking over money to a hospital. As DC tells it, the doctor was smoking the entire time, did a terrible cleaning job and dressed the would poorly then said “OK!!!” When DC asked, “Well what about tomorrow when the wound needs another dressing?” The doctor only laughed and replied, “But tomorrow is SATURDAY!”

    So one of the MANY things my first job exposed to me was Chinese Medical practices. Personally, i just don’t trust it even though my roommate swears to her prescription of herbal medicines. I guess herbs are ok, but when it comes to dressing wounds, stitches, or anything where blood is involved, I will head to a western-educated doctor. Am I wrong in doing this? Are there actually really awesome Chinese medicine doctors out there?


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