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Choosing best cold remedy can be challenging

Choosing a cold medicine to relieve your symptoms from the hundreds of brightly colored bottles and boxes on the supermarket shelf can be quite daunting.  However, carefully reading labels and selecting medications to address specific symptoms can help eliminate some of the guesswork when deciding on a cold remedy.

Consumers should remember that while many cough and cold medicines can soothe symptoms that make you feel miserable, nothing cures a cold. And that by taking a product you are only treating symptoms until the cold runs its course and is gone -- usually in about a week.

The key to purchasing the best over-the-counter cold product is to identify your symptoms and then find the best match of ingredients. If possible, choose a product that treats a single symptom, such as congestion, when selecting an over-the-counter cold or cough medicine. However, if needed, combination products for multiple symptoms are available, but use caution to not include ingredients you don't really need.

You should also keep in mind that a productive cough, one that helps break up mucus, is a positive symptom.  If it can be tolerated, drinking lots of fluids is a better solution than medication to cope with the cough. However, an antitussive (cough suppressant) will provide relief for a dry or unproductive cough. 

            Consumers should be particularly careful about taking many different medications or a combination of drugs without consulting a pharmacist or physician.  One of the biggest dangers is taking more than one medication that may contain acetaminophen (Tylenol), therefore doubling the recommended dose you consume. If in doubt, always ask your pharmacist for help in choosing over-the-counter products, as well as inform the pharmacist of the prescription medications you also are taking to guard against drug interactions.

Young children should not take over-the-counter cold medication. The FDA and manufacturers advise that cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4 years old. Although some kids' cold medicines may still be on the shelves at your grocery or pharmacy, it's important to talk to your child's physician before using cough and cold medicines.   An 8-year old child to taking an adult dose of a cold medicine is also not a good idea; carefully check the product labeling to make sure you give them a safe dose.  Remember, children are not simply little adults, and their bodies process medications differently.

Other important tips to remember when treating the symptoms of a cold include carefully following medicine directions, not exceeding the proper dosage, and remembering the active ingredient in generic brands and namebrands are the same with the main difference often being the cost. 

Regardless of whether you choose to take a cold remedy to relieve your symptoms, most people will begin feeling better in about week.  If symptoms last longer than a week, worsen or include a high temperature, consult a physician.


A few guidelines to remember when choosing a cold remedy:

·         A decongestant helps reduce congestion.

·         An expectorant promotes coughing to bring up mucus.

·         An antihistamine helps alleviate a runny nose and watery eyes.

·         An analgesic helps reduce pain and fever.

·         An antipyretic relieves or reduces fever.

·         An antitussive relieves or prevents coughing.

·         Medicines, even if they don’t require a prescription, may have harmful interactions with each other.


Kelly Smith is a pharmacist and assistant dean for academic and student affairs, University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy.