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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Tips for Treating the Cold and Flu

What to stock in your survival kit for fighting the cold and flu this winter.

Caution: Over-the-Counter Medicines

Some cold and flu remedies might seem like a good idea, but our experts have some concerns about when it's best to take them. Before you stock up on these items, consider their suggestions:

Multisymptom cold and flu remedies

These medicines were designed to provide one-stop relief for a variety of cold and flu symptoms. But some doctors feel there is a downside to these products, reasoning that if you take them, you run the risk of treating yourself for symptoms you don't have.

If, for example, you take a multisymptom medicine containing acetaminophen, and then pop a couple of Tylenol, you can exceed the recommended dosage.

Think about your symptoms and try to choose a product that addresses those, not ones you don't have. "I'd look at the labels and see what active ingredients are in there," Tallman advises.

However, you don't need to ban these products from your medicine cabinet entirely -- just use them judiciously and be sure to buy only multisymptom formulas that list your specific symptoms on the label, Schachter says.

Decongestant nasal sprays

These products can relieve congestion pretty well in the short term, but after a couple of days your stuffy nose will be back -- with a vengeance -- and the sprays will no longer work.

If you do use spray decongestants, stop after three days to avoid rebound congestion (relief followed by a return of congestion, only worse).

Zinc nasal swabs

Zinc-based nasal gels and swabs might help dampen your cold, but the FDA warns these products can have a similar effect on your sense of smell. If you want to try zinc, lozenges are a safer option.

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Reviewed on January 03, 2011

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