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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Common Questions About Cold and Flu Relief

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Should I take cough medicine?

A cough helps clear your lungs of mucus and other gunk. If you have a cough that doesn’t go away, you’ll need to see your doctor. At the drug store, you'll find a lot of cough medicines with different mixes of decongestants, antihistamines, analgesics/antipyretics, cough suppressants, and expectorants. Ask your pharmacist which combination, if any, would be right for you.

What should I take for fever and aches?

A fever can actually be a good thing. It helps your body fight infections by keeping bacteria and viruses from growing and by turning on your immune system. Doctors say it’s fine to let a fever run its course for most people, except for the very young, the very old, and those with certain medical conditions such as heart or lung disease.

If you’re uncomfortable, it's OK to take medications. Young people (including those in their early 20s) should avoid aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others), ibuprofen (Advil and others), or naproxen (Aleve and others) are your best choices. Each has its own risks, so check with your doctor or pharmacist about the best choice for you.

Be careful not to take too much; other cough, cold, and flu medicines often have these drugs mixed in. Your pharmacist can help you avoid any overlap.

What's best for my sore throat?

First, try drinking lots of fluids and using salt water gargles (mix a cup of warm water with a teaspoon of salt). Some oral drugs (such as Tylenol), lozenges, sprays, and gargles with added medicine can also soothe a sore throat for the short term. Get your doctor's approval before using any medications, including over-the-counter drugs, and don't use them for more than a few days. The medications could mask signs of strep throat, a bacterial infection that you need to treat with antibiotics.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on September 14, 2014

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