Home sick with a cold, scratchy throat, or cough? There is no cure, but there are plenty of OTC remedies that pledge to help you feel better.
“OTC” products are sold “over the counter,” which means they don’t need a prescription. Some focus on one symptom, like congestion or a cough. Others target several at once.
Use this guide to find the right one for the symptoms you have.
Stuffed Nose and Sneezing
These types of medicines can help you breathe more easily:
Antihistamines block a chemical that makes your nose fill up and run. Studies find antihistamines don't improve cold symptoms much on their own. But they may work better when combined with a decongestant. Some antihistamines can make you drowsier than others, so be aware of the side effects. You might not get tired, at all. But, you will be even more sedated if you drink alcohol with this medicine. So take precautions and be safe about driving or operating machinery.
Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels in the nose to relieve congestion. They come in a pill or nasal spray. Decongestants have the opposite side effect of antihistamines -- they can make you jittery. Avoid taking them within a few hours before bed or you might have trouble falling asleep. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor if it’s okay to use a decongestant. Also, don't use a decongestant spray for more than three days in a row. Doing so can make your stuffed nose come back.
You usually don't need to treat a cough. It should go away on its own in a few days.
Some OTC cough medicines have an ingredient that stops the reflex that makes you cough. Others contain an agent that will thin your mucus. You might try to suck on a cough drop or hard candy; it could do the trick.
Cough medicines don't often cause side effects in healthy adults. They can make some people feel dizzy or sleepy. Don't take them for more than a few days without your doctor's OK.