Since colds and their symptoms can vary from person to person, one of the best ways to treat a cold is to treat the individual symptoms. It can be hard to know what medications to take—especially when combination medications are convenient, but may treat symptoms you don’t actually have.
Since colds and their symptoms can vary from person to person, one of the best ways to treat a cold is to treat the individual symptoms. It can be hard to know what medications to take—especially when combination medications are convenient, but may treat symptoms you don’t actually have (and cause side effects!). For example, if you’re coughing, you want something different than if you're congested, or if you have a runny nose.
We’ve broken down some medications and what they treat, so that you can avoid wasting your time staring down the “cold” aisle of the pharmacy next time you are sick.
Sinus congestion or pressure: phenylephrine (over the counter) or pseudoephedrine (requires a prescription)
Nasal congestion (a “stuffy nose”): oxymetazoline
Cough suppressant: dextromethorphan
Antihistamines: diphenhydramine, cetirizine, loratadine, fexofenadine, and others
The most efficient way to determine what kind of treatment you need is to check with a healthcare provider to see what they recommend and make sure you don’t have any underlying conditions or ongoing medications that could interact. We’re available 24/7 to help you figure out the best solution for you!
Reviewed by Sara Levine, MD, MPH, FAAP, Medical Director of Adolescent Medicine
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