Skip to content

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

What Can I Buy for Fast Relief From a Cold or the Flu?

Font Size

Most cold and flu drugs attack symptoms, not the specific viruses. They aren't a cure, but they can ease your symptoms or shorten your illness. There's no one right way to treat a cold or the flu. But here are some questions to ask your pharmacist to get the right over-the-counter medication for you.

#1 Should I Take a Decongestant or an Antihistamine?

This depends on your symptoms. If you have nasal or sinus congestion, then a decongestant can be helpful. If you have drainage -- either a runny nose or postnasal drip or itchy, watery eyes -- then an antihistamine may be helpful. Over-the-counter antihistamines often make people drowsy; decongestants can make people hyper or keep them awake. Antihistamines can make secretions thick, which can be a problem for people with asthma. Keep in mind that both these medications may interact with other drugs you may be taking for conditions such as heart disease, and they may worsen some conditions. Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist which cold medication may be best for you.

#2 Is It Safe to Take a Decongestant if I Have High Blood Pressure?

Decongestants can increase blood pressure and heart rate, and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Pseudoephedrine is the primary oral decongestant available. In general, if your blood pressure is well controlled with medications, then a decongestant shouldn't be a problem as long as you monitor your blood pressure. This may not be true with certain types of blood pressure drugs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about what may be best for you.

#3 How Often Should I Use Nasal Spray?

Nasal decongestants work fast to open breathing passages. But if you use them for more than three days in a row, you may suffer a "rebound effect," and end up more congested than you were at the start. Some doctors suggest using a saline spray instead of a medicated spray. Saline spray works more slowly but has no rebound effect.

#4 What's the Deal With Cough Medicine?

An occasional cough may clear the lung of pollutants and excess phlegm and probably shouldn't be treated. However, a persistent cough should be diagnosed and treated specifically. On the shelf you'll find numerous cough medicines with various combinations of decongestants, antihistamines, analgesics/antipyretics, cough suppressants, and expectorants. Ask your pharmacist which combination, if any, would be right for you.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
 
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
 
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
Slideshow
cold weather
VIDEO
 
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Article
Boy holding ear
Slideshow
 

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

woman receiving vaccine shot
Article
woman with fever
Article
 
Waking up from sleep
Article
woman with sore throat
Slideshow