Which cold medicine is right for you?

January 1, 2017

Winter is a season that brings about many joys as we celebrate the holidays with loved ones. Unfortunately, another “season” it brings is the season for coughs, colds, runny or stuffy noses, and sore throats. As you walk through the pharmacy, you may become quickly overwhelmed by all of the choices. Here is a helpful guide to what over-the-counter (OTC) medicine can help based on your symptoms:


Non-productive: Antitussives such as dextromethorphan (Example: Delsym)

-Antitussives work as cough suppressants and can temporarily relieve coughing

Productive: Expectorants such as guaifenesin (Example: Mucinex, Robitussin)

-Expectorants thin mucus, making the secretions easier to cough up

Sore Throat: Lozenges (Ex: Chloraseptic or Cepacol) or cough drops

Nasal congestion: Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine

*Do not use if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure

Runny nose or sneezing: Antihistamines such as loratadine (Ex: Claritin), fexofenadine (Ex: Allegra), cetirizine (Ex: Zyrtec), or diphenhydramine (Ex: Benadryl)

*Numerous OTC combination products exist. Select a product based on the symptoms you are experiencing.

*If you are taking more than one cough/cold medicine, check the active ingredients to make sure you are not taking two of the same ingredient.

Do I need to see a doctor?

A doctor visit or call is recommended if you experience one or more of the following:

Temperature greater than 100.4˚F

Cough/cold symptoms have lasted more than 10 days

Infant less than 3 months of age with a fever

Other key points: Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face to help reduce the chance of getting a cold.

OTC cough and cold medicine is not recommended in children less than 4 years old.

The common cold does not have a cure, but OTC products can help relieve symptoms.

Always remember that if you have any questions about any OTC products, ask a pharmacist. We are always here to help!


CDC: Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/ Accessed 12/27/2016.