The saying is true: There’s no cure for the common cold. Likewise for the flu.
If you contract either illness, you’ll likely be looking for ways to manage your symptoms. And when it comes to classic viral symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, congestion, cough, headache and fever, sometimes the best place to turn for help is your local drug store.
“There are many very good over-the-counter medicines for managing the cold and flu,” says Shelly Rottner, a nurse practitioner with Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Prince Creek.
Rottner says her common recommendations for runny noses and sneezing include antihistamines such as Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec, Benadryl or Flonase. When it comes to congestion or stuffy nose, she often suggests medications containing phenylephrine.
For cough, Robitussin DM or Mucinex DM are Rottner’s top choices. “Guaifenesin helps thin out mucus, and dextromethorphan suppresses cough,” says Rottner.
Just about any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine can be taken for headache, body aches or fever. Common options are Advil and Motrin.
If you have a case of the flu, there are several prescription medications available that can help shorten the duration and severity of your symptoms, Rottner says.
However, you must begin taking these medications shortly after symptoms begin. It’s also important to note that, according to the National Center for Health Research, studies have shown the medications tend to only reduce the duration of symptoms by about one day.
A word of caution
Caution should be used when selecting an over-the-counter medicine for cold and flu, Rottner says. For instance, people who have high blood pressure should steer clear of some decongestants.
It’s also important to make sure you are not accidentally doubling up on any one type of medicine.
“Be careful not to overtreat by taking too many medications that contain the same active ingredients,” says Rottner.
If you have questions or concerns, consult with your health care provider or pharmacist, she says.
Other over-the-counter remedies include vapor rubs, products that can be added to steam baths and saline treatments like the neti pot. Rottner also suggested taking vitamin C and zinc or products that contain them.
Don’t forget to invest in a good thermometer so that you can keep a track of your fever. Any fever that persists longer than 48 hours or goes higher than 101 degrees should prompt a visit to a health care provider.
And make sure to get lots of rest and stay well-hydrated, Rottner says.
“Managing things at home is often your best bet,” she says. “However, if you aren’t improving or your symptoms are getting worse, don’t hesitate in seeking help.”