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Nonprescription Medicines and Products - Cold and Allergy Remedies

In general, whether you take medicines for your cold or not, you'll get better in about a week. Rest and liquids are the best treatment for a cold. Antibiotics will not help. But nonprescription medicines help relieve some cold symptoms, such as nasal congestion and cough. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Allergy symptoms, especially runny nose, often respond to antihistamines. Antihistamines are also found in many cold medicines, often together with a decongestant.

Decongestants

Decongestants make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose, allowing air to pass through. They also help relieve runny nose and postnasal drip, which can cause a sore throat.

Decongestants can be taken orally or used as nose drops or sprays. Oral decongestants (pills) provide longer relief, but they cause more side effects.

Sprays and drops provide rapid but temporary relief. Sprays and drops are less likely to interact with other drugs than oral decongestants are. Saline nose drops are not decongestants but may help keep nasal tissues moist so the tissues can filter air.

Your pharmacist can suggest a medicine for your cold and allergy symptoms.

Decongestant precautions

  • Check the label before you use these medicines. They may not be safe for young children.
  • If you use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight. Not everyone needs the same amount of medicine.
  • Decongestants can cause problems for people who have certain health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma, diabetes, or an overactive thyroid. Decongestants may also interact with some drugs, such as certain antidepressants and high blood pressure medicines. Read the package carefully slideshow.gif or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose the best decongestant for you.
  • Don't use the ones for the nose longer than the label says. Continued use will cause a "rebound effect" in which your mucous membranes swell up more than before you used the spray.
  • Drink extra fluids when you are taking cold medicines.
  • If you are pregnant, check with your doctor or pharmacist before using a decongestant.

Steroid nasal spraysSteroid nasal sprays camera.gif help relieve a stuffy nose also. They work in a different way than decongestant medicines work. And they don't cause a rebound effect. They start working quickly, but it may be several weeks before you get the full effect.

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