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Relief From Cold Aches and Pains

Has your cold left you feeling achy all over? While muscle aches are more common with the flu, some people do feel tired and achy from a cold. There are medicines that can help. Here's a look at a few of them.

OTC Medicines for Aches and Pain With a Cold

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are those you can get without a prescription from a doctor. You can purchase them at any pharmacy and most grocery stores.

Some examples of OTC medicines for relief of aches and pain include Tylenol (acetaminophen) and anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Anti-inflammatory drugs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), ketoprofen, and naproxen (Aleve). 

Both acetaminophen and NSAIDs reduce fever and relieve pain caused by muscle aches and stiffness. Some people find that one medicine works better than the other.

Many of the OTC cold medicines have either acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with muscle aches as well as fever and headaches that may occur with a cold.


How Do Medicines That Give Relief of Aches and Pain Work?

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs work differently. NSAIDs relieve pain by decreasing the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that cause pain and inflammation. Acetaminophen affects the sections of the brain that receive the "pain messages" to help relieve aches and pain.

Are My Aches and Pains From a Cold or the Flu?

Viruses cause both a cold and influenza (flu), and many symptoms of a cold and flu are similar. However, there are some differences in symptoms between a cold and the flu:

  • Fever, headache, and other aches and pains are common with the flu and less common with colds.
  • People who have colds usually have a stuffy nose and sore throat; these symptoms are less common in people who have the flu.
  • Symptoms of the flu often hit suddenly, causing a person to become weaker and weaker. The dry cough and fatigue of flu can last two to three weeks.

The following are signs that the flu is getting worse:

  • An increase in the severity of symptoms
  • High fever
  • Shaking chills
  • Shortness of breath

If you think you may have flu symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medication to help lessen the duration of flu symptoms.

Are Pain Relievers Safe?

When taken properly and according to the label instructions, OTC pain relievers are safe for most people. However, if you need pain relief for more than 10 days, talk to your health care provider.

While pain relievers are usually safe, side effects can occur and may be quite serious for some people. For instance, people who take blood-thinning medications or who have active stomach or bowel ulcers should not take aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

In addition, children and teenagers with chickenpox, "flu," or fever should not take aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a potentially serious medical condition. Also, FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under age 4.

WebMD Medical Reference

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