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Cold Medicine and Treatment: When? What? How?

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#4: What's the deal with cough syrup and medicine?

Believe it or not, not all doctors agree about treating a cough. Some don't even think cough medicines are that effective. There are three types of commonly used over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. These include cough suppressants, oral expectorants, and topical (externally applied) drugs. They can be used to either suppress a cough or help 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 WebMD's article on Cough Syrup and Medicine.

#5: What cold medicine should I take for fever and aches?

Fever may be a good thing. It helps the body fight off infection by suppressing the growth of bacteria and viruses and activating the immune system. Doctors no longer recommend suppressing fever for most people, except perhaps for the very young, the very old, and those with certain medical conditions such as heart disease or lung disease.

However, if you are uncomfortable then it's fine to take medications. Young people (including those in their early 20s) should avoid aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or the numerous other medicines like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) are your best choices. Each medication has their own risks, so check with your doctor or pharmacist as to which may be best for you. Be careful not to overdose! These drugs are often mixed in with other cough and cold and flu remedies 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 would benefit from flu medicine.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Relief for Cold Aches and Pains.

#6: What's the best cold medicine for my sore throat?

Drinking lots of fluids and using salt water gargles (made by combining a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt) can often be helpful to ease the pain of a sore throat. Some oral medications (such as Tylenol) and medicated lozenges and gargles can also temporarily soothe a sore throat. If your throat is very painful and you have trouble swallowing and fever, see your doctor. You may have strep throat and need antibiotics.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Sore Throat: Cold, Strep Throat, or Tonsillitis?

#7: Are combination cold medicines effective?

Many people find good cold relief with combination cold medicines and treatments. These combination cold medicines often contain a pain reliever, a cough suppressant, and an expectorant to liquefy mucus, making it easier to cough up. In addition, these cold medicines often contain either a decongestant or an antihistamine. Since decongestants can keep you awake, they are usually found in daytime multi-symptom cold medicines. Antihistamines are found in nighttime cold medicines because they make many people sleepy.

If you try a combination cold medicine and treatment, make sure you can safely use the specific ingredients. As an example, if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, avoid combination cold medicines and treatments that have decongestants, as they can increase blood pressure. In addition, if you have asthma or emphysema, talk to your doctor before taking a combination cold medicine and treatment that contains a cough suppressant. This drug may worsen your illness.

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