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Treating Cold and Flu: Your Shopping List

You don't have to be a Boy Scout to know you should always be prepared -- especially during cold and flu season. Chances are someone in your family is going to get sick. Is your medicine cabinet well stocked? Use the list below to create your cold and flu survival kit so you'll be prepared at the first sneeze. 

Decongestants and antihistamines

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Decongestants help relieve stuffy nose, and antihistamines may help sneezing and runny nose. They are often in multi-symptom cold medicines. Don't take -- or give your child -- two medicines at the same time that have the same ingredients. Don't give cough and cold medicine to children under age 4 unless you've spoken to his or her health care provider first. Read the labels.

Cough medicines

Cough suppressants work best for dry, hacking coughs that keep you awake. Expectorants work best for productive coughs. They help thin mucus and make it easier to cough it up. Cough drops may soothe an irritated throat. Don't give cough and cold medicines to children under age 4 unless his or her health care provider says it's OK, and don't give cough drops to children under age 3.

Pain and fever reducers

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen help relieve pain and bring down a fever. They are often included in multi-symptom cold and flu medicines, so be sure to read the label carefully and don't take -- or give your child -- two medicines at the same time that have the same ingredients. Ask your doctor before giving any medication to a child under age 6 months.

Nasal congestion relief

Rinsing out your nose with salt water can reduce congestion and get rid of cold virus particles in your nasal passages. For an infant, use saline drops and then gently suction out each nostril with a bulb syringe.

Multi-symptom or nighttime formulas

These medicines often contain a pain and fever reducer, cough suppressant, expectorant, and decongestant (daytime formula) or antihistamine (nighttime formula). Be sure to read the label carefully and don't take -- or give your child -- two medicines at the same time that have the same ingredients. Not for children under age 4.


Although more research is needed, studies have shown that vitamin C, echinacea, and zinc lozenges may help shorten the duration of cold symptoms. Tell your doctor about any vitamins or supplements you take, and always ask your doctor before giving a supplement to a child.


To check for fever, use a rectal thermometer to check an infant or toddler's temperature.

Other items to have on hand:

  • Cool mist vaporizer or humidifier. These may help relieve coughing and congestion. Change the water frequently to avoid mold and bacteria in the water.
  • Bottles of throat spray. Throat sprays that contain a local anesthetic numb a sore throat to relieve pain. Ask your doctor before giving to a child under age 3.
  • Jar of mentholated rub. Dab some under (not in) your nose to relieve skin irritated from wiping and blowing your nose. The menthol vapors may also relieve nose congestion.
  • Box of nasal strips (10-12 strips). These may help relieve congestion in your nose by opening up your nasal passages.


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