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After surviving through the Sydney winter without catching a cold, I woke up on the morning of my flight to Taiwan with the beginnings of one.

Now I find myself in 30+ temperatures with a blocked and runny nose and watering eyes.

I'm careful with cold remedies as many are full of all kinds of things, containing both a cough suppressant and an expectorant is common enough for instance. So the only thing I ever buy is a decongestant. I don't want a medicine with any other active ingredients. With just a decongestant I become much more functional until the cold has run its course.

In Australia I always used to buy one containing Pseudoephedrine because it works best. I understand that this is classified as an illegal drug in many countries. I have no idea its status in Taiwan. I also don't know which decongestants are considered next best after it.

In Australia I would go to a pharmacy for actual medicine. Pharmacies must have a qualified pharmacist and can sell medicines that require a prescription etc that regular shops cannot sell. But other countries have different traditions and might confuse a real pharmacy with something more like an American drugstore. They might sell things like shampoo and cough lollies but not real medicine.

There is a chain in much of Asia called "Watsons" - it seems to call itself a pharmacy but I'm not sure if this means that sell real medicine like a pharmacy in Australia.

So can I buy a decent decongestant at a Watsons and if not, what kind of shop should I find and what are they called in Chinese? I prefer if it's a shop that sells one containing Pseudoephedrine if it's allowed in Taiwan. But if not, something with another active ingredient that actually works.

  • I read on a forum that pseudoephedrine is available at Watsons in Taiwan but the post if 5 years old. I went to the nearest Watsons and chose a box of "night and day" tablets because I thought they contained "phenylephedrine", which I thought could be a type of "pseudoephedrine". But now I see they actually contain "phenylephrine". I'll read up on those ingredients and see if the tablets work before I post an answer. I did not see "pseudoephedrine" on any other box but I was in the OTC section and did not ask an employee. – hippietrail Aug 5 '16 at 5:42
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    Phenylephrine is available OTC in the USA, while pseudo ephedrine requires ID and is kept behind the counter. It does not require an Rx. My understanding is phenylephrine is less effective. Good luck. – Andrew Lazarus Aug 5 '16 at 5:53
  • @AndrewLazarus: Indeed it seems Australia followed the USA back in 2006 to some degree and I had not noticed. Also by "less effective" most studies actually say "no more effective than a placebo" which means "not effective". – hippietrail Aug 5 '16 at 6:25
  • I have now come across a forum post stating that either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine has been less readily available in Taiwan since 2010. It's a bit unclear which though ... – hippietrail Aug 5 '16 at 11:44
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It turns out that Taiwan, like many other places, made Pseudoephedrine harder to obtain, but perhaps more recently (2010).

So far I did not find out how easy Pseudoephedrine is to obtain. It is not available over-the-counter (OTC).

Many other decongestants and other cold and flu remedies are available over the counter.

Relevant shelf at Watsons, Songshan, Taipei

As elsewhere, Phenylephrine is one of the main OTC alternative active ingredients in place of Pseudoephedrine. It seems that drug companies insist to governments that it is effective while studies mostly find it to be no better than a placebo.

I ended up buying a medicine containing Phenelephrine by mistake. With my watery eyes I thought the box said "Phenylephedrine" and thought that must be one kind of Pseudoephedrine:

Coldenin Day & Night F.C. Tablets

Despite being quite skeptical I did find it much easier to breathe from the next day on. I cannot say whether this is due to the medicine or if I was already on the last day that was going to be bad even had I not taken anything.

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