FAQ: Cough and Cold Medicines

Are you laid up with a bad cold? There's no cure, but lots of medicines can give you some relief from the coughing, sneezing, and stuffiness that go with it. That inflammation in the upper airways (nose and throat) is your immune system fighting back against a cough, cold and flu. You can get relief from the symptoms of sore throat and cough by reducing that inflammation..

When you head to the pharmacy to look for an over-the-counter drug, keep in mind there's no such thing as a "perfect" cold medicine. A medication that does the job for your friend may not work for you.

Here's what you need to know when you search for relief.

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Should I take a decongestant or an antihistamine?

It depends on what's bothering you. If your nose and sinuses are stuffed up, a decongestant may help. You can use it alone or combine it with an antihistamine. Remember, though, it can increase your heart rate and may cause anxiety or make it hard to fall asleep.

If you have a runny nose or sneezing, try an antihistamine. Some types may have diphenhydramine, which can make you drowsy. Be careful if you need to drive or use machinery. You can also try non-sedating antihistamines, which don't make you as sleepy.

Dry mouth is another common side effect of antihistamines.

Is it safe to take a decongestant if I have high blood pressure?

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Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. If you have high blood pressure, it's a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out what's right for you.

You can also try decongestant-free cold medicines, such as Coricidin HBP.

For in-depth information, see ishonest's article on Decongestants and Antihistamines.

How often can I use nasal sprays for congestion?

They work fast to open up your clogged nose. But if you use them for more than 3 days in a row, you may end up more stuffed up than you were before. Doctors call this the "rebound effect."

Read more on: cold and flu, cold guide