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Cold Medicine and Treatment: When? What? How?

Looking for more effective cold medicine? While there are many cold medicines and treatments that soothe miserable cold symptoms, there is nothing that cures a cold. Still, some cold treatments can give you much-needed relief to help you wait it out until the cold is gone.

Cold medicines and treatments attack the cold symptoms, not the specific cold viruses. They don't cure the cold, but they can bring relief, lighter symptoms, or maybe even shorten your cold. Also, there's no one "perfect" cold medicine. What works for your symptoms may not help your best friend's cold symptoms. You may have to try two or three cold treatments to find the one that works best. But be sure to read the labels carefully. Don’t take medicines at the same time that have the same ingredients or have ingredients that would interact.

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Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about over-the-counter cold medicine and treatment.

#1: Should I take a decongestant or an antihistamine?

This depends on your cold symptoms. If you have nasal or sinus congestion, then a decongestant cold medicine may be helpful. Decongestants can increase heart rate and may cause anxiety and insomnia in some people. These medications can be used alone or in combination with an antihistamine.

If you have a runny nose or sneezing, then an antihistamine may be helpful. Over-the-counter antihistamines that contain diphenhydramine may make people extremely drowsy. Non-sedating antihistamines are also available over the counter and do not appear to produce significant drowsiness. Dry mouth is another common side effect. When using an antihistamine, use caution in operating heavy machinery or driving. 

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

Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, can increase blood pressure and heart rate. In general, if your blood pressure is well controlled with medications, then a decongestant may not be a problem as long as you monitor your blood pressure. There are decongestant-free cold medicines available over-the-counter, such as Coricidin HBP. If you have high blood pressure, it's a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out what's right for you.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Decongestants and Antihistamines.

#3: How often can I use nasal sprays for congestion?

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. Insomnia, restlessness, and difficulty urinating can be side effects. 

Some doctors suggest using a saline spray instead of a medicated spray. Saline sprays work to loosen mucus. They work more slowly, but they cause no rebound effect.

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

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