When you’re showing cold symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat, and bothersome cough, you want to feel better and feel better fast. There’s nothing worse than feeling low on energy, congested, and coughing non-stop.
If you’re looking to alleviate your cough and cold symptoms it can seem like there are millions of medications to choose from when you walk down the aisle at the drug store. But you don’t feel well, and you just want to grab the right one and get back to bed fast. We get it. First, make sure you’re sick and not just experiencing allergies. Next, find the right medication to treat your symptoms.
Are all cold and cough medicines the same? What active ingredients should you look for, and what side effects do they each have? Here are the best OTC cough and cold medications to help you feel better as quickly as possible. Remember, generic medications often cost much less than brand name drugs so looking for the right ingredients is key.
One of the most notable symptoms of the common cold is have a stuffy nose. You may feel pressure in your sinuses or have trouble breathing through your nostrils. If this is the case, look for a cold medicine that contains a nasal decongestant. When checking the active ingredients list, look for the medications that contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine.
Additionally, nasal sprays can help relieve congestion. Doctors do not typically recommend that you use them for more than three days as your body can become dependent on them. If used for an extended period, you may experience what is known as a rebound effect. The rebound effect that takes place when you use a nasal spray for too long and suddenly stop results in an even stuffier nose that is challenging to beat.
Nasal sprays often contain the active ingredient of oxymetazoline hydrochloride.
Pain Reliever and Fever Reduction
Other common symptoms that come with the cold and flu include body aches and pains along with a fever. If you are only experiencing a fever without other cold and flu symptoms, a single ingredient medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be the best route to take. You should never combine medicines or take OTC drugs that have ingredients you do not need.
Additionally if you have high blood pressure, check with your doctor to see which pain reliever and fever reduction medication they recommend. There are some medications that are contraindicated with hypertension, and some that are specifically formulated with that in mind.
Another crucial part of treating a cough and cold is finding the right cough suppressant and some cough drops to go along with it. Dextromethorphan is the most common active ingredient found in cough medicine used to stop a cough. Cough suppressants stop your body’s reflex to cough so that you do so less frequently.
Another problem with coughs when you have the common cold is that mucus may get stuck in your chest, causing what is known as a wet cough. You may feel the pressure of mucus in your chest but have trouble coughing it up to rid it from your body. If this is the case you need a cough expectorant to help your body expel the mucus. Look for a cough medication that includes the active ingredient guaifenesin.
Cough drops often contain menthol, which is another cough suppressant. Menthol provides a cooling sensation and it may help dull the feeling of a sore throat as well, providing two benefits at the same time. It is generally safe to use cough drops in conjunction with other cold and flu medications. They do not treat illness but can help relieve symptoms.
Many OTC cough and cold medications combine medicines so that you can find relief from multiple symptoms with a single pill. While this is convenient and often less expensive than purchasing multiple medications when looking for cold remedies, reading the active ingredients is crucial.
For example, if you are experiencing a mucus-y cough, you do not want to take a cough suppressant. Instead you need a cough expectorant. Similarly, if you are suffering from a runny nose you should not use a nasal decongestant. You only want to take medications that treat the symptoms you have.
Daytime and Nighttime Medications
One last thing to look at when considering what OTC cough and cold medication to take is whether it is non-drowsy or intended to help you sleep. Many medications have phrases such as “non-drowsy,” “day time,” or “night time” on the label to help you decipher which may make you tired.
Night time cold and flu medications contain active ingredients that day time medicines do not. They may include doxylamine or diphenhydramine as sleep aids. Look for these ingredients when purchasing a medication.
Deciphering Medication Labels
In accordance with FDA regulations, every medication in the United States must clearly list its ingredients on the outside label. Look for the section of the box titled “Active Ingredients” to see what is included. Next to the ingredient companies list what the ingredient treats. For example it will say “expectorant,” “sleep aid,” or “pain reliever.” Look for medications that treat your symptoms.
A Note from GR8NESS
The information in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose, or cure any ailment or illness. It is simply a starting point and you should discuss all treatment options with your primary care physician. If you have pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma your doctor may recommend a special protocol to treat your cough and cold.