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Tips for Treating the Common Cold

By: Denise Roark, Pharm.D.

What can I do about this cold?

This is the text I received recently from a friend of mine.  It is something I get asked quite frequently, especially this time of year.  While the common cold is usually harmless, it can make you feel awful, and could last up to two weeks.

I like to talk in depth with my patients (and friends) to find out what their symptoms are.  Occasionally, depending on your symptoms, you might take a medicine that can worsen your symptoms instead of improve them.  Therefore, good communication with your health care provider can be important in obtaining the best results.

Frequently, a combination of medicines is required to alleviate all the symptoms.

Here are the categories most often used to treat the common cold:

Pain Relievers

Pain relievers will often help with fever, body aches and sore throat.  Examples of these are acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen.  Even though these pain relievers are over the counter (OTC), there are certain patient populations that should avoid them so talking with your pharmacist is essential.


Decongestants will help with sinus pressure and head congestion.  One form is available in a nasal drop or nasal spray and is a good option for those who are on multiple medications or have high blood pressure (as they are less likely to cause a drug interaction or increase heart rate and blood pressure).  Oral decongestants are available as liquids or tablets and in extended-release or immediate-release forms.

Cough Suppressants

Cough suppressants help quiet the cough.  The most common ingredient is dextromethorphan and it is often combined with guaifenesin to help with chest congestion.  While adults and older children may benefit from cough medicines, the FDA and American Academy of Pediatrics do not recommend these or any other OTC cold medicines for children under the age of two.


These help with drainage, sneezing, watery eyes and sometimes the itchy or sore throat.  A side effect of some antihistamines is drowsiness, but there are others that are much less likely to do so.

Non-Medication Tips

I always recommend a few of the same things that your mother probably did… get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids (including chicken soup!).  You’ve heard it before, but it is true- both of these will help.  I also suggest throat lozenges or cough drops, and if you like a little Vitamin C and / or zinc – those can be beneficial too.

A common problem in treating cold symptoms is that many products available contain combinations of these ingredients.  For example, if a patient chose to take a dose of Nyquil Cold and Flu and also a Tylenol Cough and Cold, he or she would be duplicating three ingredients, which can be harmful.  It is crucial to read labels and be sure to talk to your pharmacist.

I encourage you to get to know your pharmacist on a first name basis.  Establish a relationship and feel free to ask questions.  It is important to take care of yourself and make your health a priority.  Stop by and introduce yourself to our pharmacists at any of our Collier Drug Stores.  We value our patients and their health, and look forward to talking to you… about the common cold, or any other questions you might have. Remember don’t fell like this, talk to one of us. We’re here to help!