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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Common Questions About Cold and Flu Relief

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Store shelves bulge with cold and flu remedies, all of which are made to fight symptoms or help you feel better faster. But how do you decide which one is right for you? Here are some questions to ask the pharmacist.

Should I take a decongestant or an antihistamine?

The medicine that’s best for you depends on your symptoms. If you have a stuffy nose or sinus congestion, then a decongestant can help. If you have drainage -- a runny nose, postnasal drip, or itchy watery eyes -- then an antihistamine may help.

Over-the-counter antihistamines may make you drowsy and can make mucus thicker, which can be a problem if you have asthma. Decongestants may make you jittery or keep you awake. Both types can interact with other drugs you take, and they may make some of those conditions worse. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about which one is best for you.

Is it safe to take a decongestant if I have high blood pressure?

Decongestants can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, along with your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are the most common types available. In general, if your blood pressure is under control with medications, then a decongestant shouldn't be a problem -- as long as you monitor your condition. But that’s not the case for all types of blood pressure drugs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to help you pick a product that works with what you’re taking.

How often should I use nasal spray if I have a cold or flu?

Nasal decongestant sprays work fast to open breathing passages. But if you use them for more than 3 days in a row, you may suffer a "rebound effect" and end up much more congested than you were at the start. It’s also hard to get off the medications, so avoid them or use them sparingly. Some doctors suggest a saline spray or rinse instead of one with medicine in it. Saline spray works more slowly, but it has no rebound effect.

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