According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), cold medicines can treat symptoms, making you feel better, but they don’t shorten a cold. However, the NLM says, taking zinc supplements within the first 24 hours of a cold may reduce symptoms and shorten it. Ask your doctor about which cold medicines are safest for your child, even if the medicine is labeled for children. The main types of cold medicine include:
Decongestants. Decongestants shrink swollen nasal passages, making it easier to breathe. Brand names include:
- Chlor-Trimeton Nasal Decongestant
- Contac Cold
- Drixoral Decongestant Non-Drowsy
- Elixsure Decongestant
- Entex, Genaphed
- Kid Kare Drops
- Sudafed 12-Hour
- Sudafed 24-Hour
- Sudafed Children’s Nasal Decongestant
- SudoGest 12 Hour
- Triaminic Softchews Allergy Congestion
Decongestants shouldn’t be used by people who have high blood pressure unless they are under a doctor’s supervision.
Antihistamines work by blocking the release of histamines during an allergic reaction. (A histamine is a substance released during an allergy reaction that makes blood vessels more vulnerable to the allergen.) Some antihistamines can induce drowsiness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, antihistamines that tend to cause drowsiness include:
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Chlorpheniramine. (Chlorpheniramine is a key ingredient in Chlor-Trimeton)
The following antihistamines are less likely to cause drowsiness:
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Desloratadine (Clarinex)
- Fexofenadine (Allegra)
- Levocetirizine (Xyzal)
- Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
Additionally, there are antihistamine/decongestant combinations such as Allerest and Actifed.
Nasal sprays can also relieve stuffy noses. The NLM cautions against the use of OTC nasal sprays for longer than three days on and three days off unless you are told otherwise by your doctor, because overusing them may lead to you building up a resistance to them that requires greater amounts for them to be effective. OTC nasal sprays include:
You can also get relief by using a simple OTC saline (salt) spray.
Antiviral medications. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are four approved prescription antiviral medicines. They are available in pills, liquids and inhalers and are used to prevent or treat flu viruses. The following antiviral medications are approved for adults and children one year or older:
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
- Zanamivir (Relenza)
- Amantadine (Symmetrel)
- Rimantadine (Flumadine)
OTC remedies like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can reduce pain and fever. Treatment for the flu should be given within the first 48 hours of symptoms.
If your cold or flu is accompanied by a cough, the following medications may help you:
Expectorants. Cough medicines that are designed to break up mucus, suppress coughs or soothe throats. The ingredient guaifenesin, which loosens mucus, is found in OTC medicines such as Robitussin. (Experts advise drinking lots of fluids if you take this kind of medicine.) Other liquid expectorants act via the ingredient dextromethorphan. (These include Vicks 44 and Delsym.)
Cough Suppressants: These are classified as antitussives, meaning they suppress (block) coughing. These medicines should be used, experts say, for a dry cough, not for a productive cough – i.e. one that produces mucus. Cough suppressants include Delsym Cough Suppressant and Mucinex DM.
Throat soothers. Throat lozenges can help lessen the discomfort of a sore throat. They include Halls, Cepacol and Chloraseptic.