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Navigating cough and cold medicines

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CLEVELAND CLINIC - Choosing the right medicine for cough and cold symptoms can be a daunting task. 

The options may seem endless, but Cleveland Clinic pharmacist Angela Giallourakis said making sure a medication is safe for a person’s specific health situation is a good place to start. 

“It is important to look at the box and see what’s in there, how many ingredients are there and then check the contraindications for if you have a disease state,” said Giallourakis. “If you’re taking a medication you can have overlap, it could cause a spike in blood pressure, or it could be harmful with something you’re currently taking.” 

Once it’s determined that a medicine is safe, look for products that match symptoms. 

Giallourakis recommends sticking to cold medicines versus allergy medicines. 

Both contain antihistamines, but cold medicines contain the type that are designed to dry up a runny nose and post-nasal drip, which may also help relieve a cough.

A dry cough that lingers for more than a few weeks can be treated with a ‘DM’ cough product to stop the cough– however she warns that bronchitis should not be treated with this type of medicine.

Chest congestion and a cough that brings up mucus can be treated with products that contain guaifenesin which are designed to bring up more mucus.  

Folks can find relief from stuffy symptoms by using a decongestant.

Giallourakis said products that contain pseudoephedrine are more effective, but require a photo ID to purchase them.

A nasal spray designed for congestion can also help treat a stuffy nose but shouldn’t be used for more than three days. 

And when it comes to herbal medicines to relieve symptoms, Giallourakis said they’re not proven to be effective. 
 
“There are herbal products available over-the-counter that are marketed for cough and cold symptoms, but most are not recommended - things like vitamin C, Echinacea, “said Giallourakis. “They can maybe help to shorten the duration or severity of symptoms, but it’s very minor.” 

Giallourakis said certain people should use extra caution when shopping for cough and cold medicines, especially children, pregnant or nursing women, those with high blood pressure, glaucoma, thyroid disease, or anyone with urinary retention problems. 

For more information on medication allergies click here. 

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