How Do I Choose the Best over-The-Counter Cold Medicine?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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With its prevalence and its barrage of uncomfortable symptoms, the common cold can be a real nuisance. While unfortunately there is no known cure for this unpleasant illness, it is possible to manage symptoms with over-the-counter cold medicine. To choose the best over-the-counter cold medicine for you, consider which symptoms you would like to reduce, and then choose a decongestant, an antihistamine, an expectorant, a pain reliever, or a product which combines these properties. Finally, decide whether you would prefer your medicine in a liquid or tablet form.

One of the most common symptoms of a cold is thick mucus in the nose, which makes breathing difficult. If you are suffering from a stuffy nose, you may find relief in an over-the-counter cold medicine that contains a decongestant. This type of medicine can temporarily thin the mucus and relieve swelling of the nasal passages, allowing you to breathe comfortably. It should be noted, however, that decongestants may lose effectiveness if they are used for three or more consecutive days. Additionally, they can cause restlessness, and thus should be avoided at night.


If your main symptoms include a runny nose, frequent sneezing, and watery eyes, you may want to seek an over-the-counter cold medicine that contains an antihistamine. This type of medication temporarily inhibits the immune system response which causes these symptoms. It is important to note, however, that antihistamines can cause extreme drowsiness, and therefore those taking them should avoid driving or otherwise operating heavy machinery.

Another common cold symptom is coughing. Annoying as this symptom may be, it plays the important role of helping your body expel germ-filled mucus from the lungs. If your cough is unproductive, you may wish to try an over-the-counter cold medicine containing an expectorant. This type of medication works to temporarily thin the mucus, making it easier to expel it through coughing. Note that drinking plenty of non-caffeinated fluids can help improve an expectorant’s performance.

Some colds are accompanied by headaches and muscle cramps. If you are plagued by these symptoms, you might find a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to be helpful. Many over-the-counter cold medicine products contain a pain reliever, however, making a separate one unnecessary. As excessive intake of certain pain relievers can cause liver damage, be sure to find out whether any other cold medicine you may be using contains a pain reliever to avoid taking more than necessary.

A number of over-the-counter cold medicine products are intended to treat a range of symptoms. Many health experts caution that cold sufferers should avoid taking products aimed at symptoms they do not have, however. Therefore, if you wish to purchase a multi-symptom medicine, you should read product labels carefully, and select one intended only for the symptoms you have.

Finally, decide whether you would like your over-the-counter cold medicine in a liquid or tablet form. As tablets create no mess and are easily transportable, many people find them preferable to liquids. On the other hand, liquid medication may be more suitable for children and those who have difficulty swallowing pills.



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Post 1

If I know I'll have to be at work after taking the medication, my first requirement is that the meds be "no drowsiness." I can't work if I'm falling asleep from taking an antihistamine.

Also, I generally prefer a formula with an NSAID, since that's an anti-inflammatory. It reduces the swelling of my nasal passages, and therefore helps me breathe easier. I can take NSAIDs without any problems, so that's my go-to formula.

Third, give me the pseudoephedrine. It just works better. I'll show my driver's license and swear myself blue that I'm not making meth -- I'm just congested!

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