Over the Counter Medicine Uses for Common Cold Symptoms

Over the Counter Medicine

Not every cold is the same, which is why being familiar with over the counter medicine is important. Some colds come with just a runny nose, where others could give you a sore throat. Sometimes colds see multiple symptoms, like a runny nose, headache and a cough. So, what are the best over the counter medicines for the symptoms you are experiencing?

Let’s talk a little about the best over the counter medicines to treat the symptoms you may experience with a cold.

List of Common Cold Symptoms and the Over the Counter Medicine Used to Treat Them

Runny Nose

Types of medicine: antihistamines

Common brands: Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec, Sudafed

How do antihistamines work?

Antihistamines treat colds and allergies. So, when you get a runny nose, it can be good to turn to antihistamines. These types of medicines block histamines from interacting with the nasal tissue. They prevent sneezing and runny nose.

Is it a cold or allergies? Here’s how to tell.

Dry Cough

Types of medicine: cough suppressants

Common brands: Dayquil Cough, Robitussin Cough Relief, Delsym

How do cough suppressants work?

Cough suppressants work by blocking the cough reflex. Cough suppressants contain Dextromethorphan, a common ingredient that treats cough. You shouldn’t use cough suppressants to treat coughs with mucus.

Cough with Mucus

Types of medicine: expectorants

Common brands: Mucinex

What do expectorants do?

Expectorants loosen and thin mucus, so it’s easier to clear from airways and lungs. Guaifenesin is a common expectorant that many cough medicines use. Coughs with phlegm are usually a sign that your airways are clearing the gunk from them.

Sore Throat, Headaches or Sinus Pain

Types of medicine: Acetaminopehn, Aspirin, or Ibuprofen

Common brands: Tylenol, Advil, Bayer

Since sore throats are often viral infections, there’s no real medicine that will make your sore throat go away. Sore throats often accompany other cold symptoms, so a pain reliever, like acetaminophen is usually included in common cold medicines. If you only have a sore throat, not accompanied by other symptoms, common pain relievers, like ibuprofen, can be used to treat your sore throat.

Clogged Nose

Type of medicine: nose spray decongestants

Common Brands: Afrin, Neo-Synephrine, saline nasal sprays

Nasal sprays can come in saline forms and decongestant forms. The difference? It is for this reason you should only use decongestant nasal sprays for a couple of days. If decongestant nasal sprays are used more than that, you could see more congestion than before you started using the spray. That being said, simple saline nasal sprays don’t come with this risk. They are basically a salt solution that helps moisturize and keep the nasal passage moving.

Each cold is different, so over the counter medicines to use will vary

Be sure to read the medicine’s instructions and ingredients carefully. Choose which symptoms are bothering you the most and try to attack those. Be careful not to double-up on ingredients. Many cold medicines have the same ingredients, though they may be marketed for different symptoms. If you have any questions about the over the counter medicine you are considering, ask the pharmacist for direction. They are happy to help you decide which cold medicine will benefit you the most.

Though the majority of colds are viral, sometimes a cold may seem bad enough to visit a doctor. If that happens, your doctor could diagnose you with a bacterial infection, which would need an antibiotic.

LowestMed’s Health Information Center is meant for educational purposes and is not intended for medical advice. If you would like to recommend any story ideas, feel free to contact us.