What cold medicines should I take?


I don’t know about you, but I feel like I have a perpetual runny nose throughout the cold and flu season.  I’m pretty sure my family is keeping the facial tissue industry in business.

But with every cold of the season comes the question – what should I take for it? There are medicines that mask the symptoms, medicines that might make them seem worse but drain your sinuses, medicines to help you get a good night’s sleep, etc.

I turned to an Ask the Expert column by Banner pharmacist Candyce Collins, PharmD, BCACP, CACP, to wade through the tide of medication options. She notes we will find the following in the cold/flu aisle at the store:

  • Antihistamines (e.g. chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, loratidine) are used for a runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes often caused by a cold or allergies.
  • Cough suppressants (e.g. dextromethorphan) can be effective in alleviating a hacking, non-productive cough.
  • Expectorants (e.g. guaifenesin) help loosen and bring up mucus and other material from the lungs.
  • Pain relievers/fever reducers (e.g. acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen) are often found in cold and flu medications to ease body aches and pains, and reduce elevated body temperature.
  • Nasal decongestants (e.g. oxymetazoline spray, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine) alleviate a stuffy nose, as well as sinus congestion and pressure.
  • Lozenges containing topical/oral anesthetics (menthol) can relieve throat pain or relieve dryness.
Several medicines combine some of the above treatments in one dose, but that might not always be the best option. You can also take medicines that will treat your symptoms individually. For example, my husband often takes an expectorant when he has a cold, but I find those tend to make my cough worse. I usually take an antihistamine to stop a post nasal drip. Collins notes in her Ask the Expert column that some multi-symptom medications can interact with other medications you are taking.

“To avoid potential problems with multi-ingredient products, select individual medications based on the cold/flu symptoms you typically experience, and that won’t negatively impact any medical conditions you may have,” Collins said.

She adds that there is no guarantee that medications will eliminate your symptoms, and recommends consulting your physician if your symptoms worsen.

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