Find the Right Cold or Flu Over-the-Counter Medication

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Cold and Flu. Extreme Cold and Flu. Cough and Cold. Cough and Flu … huh? Will I be able to wake up early if I take nighttime cough medicine? What is the difference between sinus relief and intense sinus relief, anyway?

We’ve all been there; standing in the medicine aisle, your germs overwhelming your ability to make a decision as you stare at the seemingly endless options. Sometimes people have a go-to medication no matter what their specific symptoms may be. It’s important, though, to select a product based on only your symptoms. This will help to avoid unnecessary side effects.

“If you do not have a cough, avoid cough medication,” offers Dr. Melissa A. Marshall, a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist and a clinical pharmacist with the University of Miami Health System, located in UHealth Tower. “Use an antihistamine if your symptoms are allergy related, such as itchy, watery eyes or nose, for example. If you have a sore throat, body aches, and a fever, a pain reliever/fever reducer can help relieve these symptoms.”

Marshall adds that it’s best to consider single-entity products – cough medicine – rather than combination products – cold and flu plus fever reducer – whenever possible.

“Medication labels for over-the-counter cold and flu relief products are now required to have the active ingredients, as well as the purpose for each one, listed on the label,” she explains. “Always read medication labels carefully. Consult with your pharmacist or doctor first, especially if you are taking prescription medications. This will help decrease the risk of possible drug-drug interactions, which could worsen your chronic conditions.”

Preventing the flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins. This should typically happen by the end of October, although you may still benefit from receiving the vaccine later in the flu season. This can be especially true if it is an active season like we are currently experiencing.

Many community pharmacies now offer the flu vaccine. If your doctor has long appointment wait times, it may be a good option for you. Other ways to prevent the flu include avoiding contact with sick people and avoiding contact with others if you are feeling under the weather. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands often to minimize infecting others.

If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of the flu (fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, fatigue, etc.), prescription antiviral medications are available. These should be started early on for them to be effective.

Making the decision

One of the best ways to decide on an over the counter medication is to always rely on the personal advice of your local pharmacist, recommends Marshall.

“When you find yourself in the aisle at the store staring at all the different types of medications, a pharmacist can be a very valuable resource,” she says. “A pharmacist can review your prescription medication list and recommend an appropriate over-the-counter product. Pharmacists also can administer flu shots when your current symptoms improve.”

The Natural Approach? 

While it can be tempting to medicate as soon as you start feeling under the weather, there are also natural options that should be used first, she adds.

“Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and use a saline nasal spray to soothe dry nasal passages.  These can go a long way to making you feel better,” shares Marshall. “Don’t overlook chicken noodle soup, either,” she adds. “It has more benefits than most people realize.”

Ask your pharmacist for help picking the right medication. Visit uhealthclinics.com for more information. If your symptoms get worse or stick around for an extended period of time, you may be dealing with more than just a cold. Make an appointment with your doctor.