How travellers can steer clear of China syndrome

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 1996, 12:00am

Q: MY classmates and I recently returned from China and we all came down with what appeared to be either colds or sinus infections. After seeing the doctor, we were told that it was quite common to catch upper respiratory infections in China. Why is that? How can we prevent it? Dr Rose writes: Many tourists and business travellers to China do report an increased incidence of becoming infected with upper respiratory tract irritations and infections. Typical symptoms tend to be sneezing, a runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing, production of phlegm, a sore throat, sinus pain and headaches.

In severe cases they may even have a low fever. Most of these are due to a combination of exposure to new types of virus and bacteria, the poor air quality in most major Chinese cities, low personal hygiene standards and crowded conditions. Travelling to China frequently will allow your immune system to become acclimatised to the new environment. Avoiding crowded public places will also decrease the chance of becoming infected. Common sense measures such as using a handkerchief to cover your nose and mouth when in areas of high pollution can also help. Lastly, be sure to drink lots of fluids so your body is well hydrated and your lungs are able to expel any foreign materials and pollution particles.

Q: While in the United States, I underwent several sessions of a therapy called 'ear coning' for a chronic inner ear infection. This was diagnosed some months ago, but never seemed to clear up, despite numerous antibiotics.

I took a series of five treatments and immediately started feeling better. Is there any potential danger in this method? Dr Rose writes: Ear coning, or ear candling, is an ancient art used by people in India, China, Tibet, and other cultures. It was used as folk medicine to treat chronic ear problems. Initially glazed clay or stone cones were used to create a spiralling steam of energy flow carrying herbs or incense into the outer ear canal.

Today, the cones are made of strips of cotton dipped in a mixture of paraffin, bees' wax and herbs in the form of tinctures, extracts and oils. These strips are molded into a spiral.

Ear-coning appears to help remove ear wax accumulation and relieve pressure blockage from the inner ear. The ear contains nerve endings and acupuncture points to other areas of the body, including some which affect the emotional well-being of a person. While I am not aware of scientifically conducted studies as to the effectiveness of ear coning, reports appear to be quite favourable. Coning can cause drying of the ear canal, so excessive coning is not recommended. Furthermore, you must not try this if you have a perforated ear drum. Provided your ear drum is intact, and this can only be ascertained by your physician, coning probably poses little harm.