Kongtiaobing, literally air conditioning disease, is very real, though far from dangerous. Your ayi has probably squawked at you about it. It’s the reason all your Chinese colleagues have humidifiers on their desks. When you wake up every morning with a dry, sore throat, it’s not what you did last night that’s to blame but your air conditioner.
Those who are lucky enough to have central air conditioning are spared this unpleasant condition, but we plebes with wall-mounted or standing units will suffer all summer. Air conditioners cause dry, scratchy throats because although the air you feel is nice and cool, it’s also very dry. “Breathing in this air dries out the lining of your nose and throat,” says Dr. Jeanette Burkschat, an ENT specialist at Shanghai United Family Hospital, which is why your throat is dry and itchy.
The Power of Humidifiers
You’re not going to turn off the A / C when it’s 40 degrees out, but you can combat kongtiaobing by humidifying the room. “Use a humidifier or place a bowl of water in the room; a hygrometer can help you measure humidity to find the right comfort level,” says Dr. Burkschat. Humidifiers can be purchased at Carrefour and on Taobao; a mid-range Chinese model from Taobao will run you RMB120. Hygrometers start from just RMB3 on Taobao.
What Else Can You Do?
To soothe your throat, Dr. Burkschat suggests drinking plenty of warm water or tea; you can sweeten it with honey or forego the tea and just eat a tablespoon of honey, although remember to hydrate anyway. Try gargling with sage tea or salt water—one teaspoon salt per eight ounces of warm water—or inhale the steam from boiling salt water or sage tea. You can also gargle with a mild oil like sesame or olive oil. Suck on throat lozenges, which can be purchased cheaply at all convenience stores, and listen to your mother and finally quit smoking. If you’ve got space in your apartment, move your bed away from the aircon; kongtiaobing is at its worst when you sleep directly under the unit.
Is it Dangerous?
Suffering from this condition does not necessarily mean you’re on your way to getting sick, but Dr. Burkschat says, “If you have a sore or dry throat, your mucus membrane loses functions like protecting and cleaning the throat.” This does make it easier to catch a cold, which is possible during the summer months. Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze, wash your hands and keep your fingers away from your eyes and mouth.