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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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FAQ: Cough and Cold Medicines

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    For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Nasal Sprays for Cold Relief.

    What's the deal with cough syrup and medicine?

    Not all doctors agree about the best way to treat a cough. Some don't think cough medicines are that effective.

    There are three common types of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines:

    • Cough suppressants
    • Oral expectorants
    • Topical (creams or gels you put on your skin)

    They can be used to either stop your cough or loosen thick mucus to help you cough it up. When that's not enough, your doctor may prescribe a strong prescription cough medicine.

    For in-depth information, see A Guide to Cough Medicine

    What cold medicine should I take for a fever and aches?

    A fever may be a good thing. It helps fight off an infection by curbing the growth of bacteria and viruses and activating the immune system, your body's defense against germs. Doctors no longer recommend trying to lower a fever, except for young kids, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions such as heart disease or lung disease.

    If your fever makes you uncomfortable, though, it's fine to take medicine for it. Young people, including those in their early 20s, should avoid aspirinAcetaminophen or other medicines like ibuprofen are your best choices.

    Each medication has its own risks, so check with your doctor to see which is best for you. Be careful not to overdose. These drugs are often mixed in with other cough and cold medicines you may also be taking. Your pharmacist can help you make the right choice.

    If you have severe body aches or a fever over 102 degrees, you may have the flu. Call your doctor to see if you need flu medicine or if something else might be causing your symptoms.

    For in-depth information, see Relief for Cold Aches and Pains.

    What's the best medicine for my sore throat?

    You can get some relief if you drink lots of fluids and gargle with salt water. Mix up a batch by combining a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt.

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