As pharmacists, we are often asked how to treat the common cold and other upper respiratory issues with over-the-counter (OTC) products…and our best advice?

Treat the symptoms with the fewest number of medications, add healthy fruit and veggies to increase your vitamin C, and drink lots of water!

But choosing a cough and cold medication can definitely be overwhelming! How do you choose? Let’s define what’s out there…and then give you our choices for feeling better!

  1. If you are congested, you want an OTC product that contains either pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or phenylephrine. The products typically have ‘D’ or ‘PE’ in their name. Decongestants help keep things running which is good! A note of caution: if you have high blood pressure, you should probably avoid a traditional decongestant because a common side effect is a slight elevation of blood pressure.
  2. If you have a nagging cough, you may need an OTC product that contains dextromethorphan (DM) which acts as a cough suppressant. If your complaint is drainage, you may need a product that has guaifenesin, such as Mucinex or Robitussin. These products are expectorants…they help you cough in order to break up the mucus so that you can get rid of it. In combination, you can thin the mucus AND suppress the annoying cough so choosing a product with both (ex: Mucinex-DM) may be your best bet!
  3. If your symptoms include a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing…you need an antihistamine. Products such as Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra or Benadryl, will combat these symptoms and in most cases can be taken once a day. The most common side effect is drowsiness, so if you are taking any of these products for the first time be cautious about driving or mixing with other medications.
  4. While taking ANY of these products it’s very important to DRINK A LOT OF WATER! Staying hydrated helps flush out the virus, reduces headaches and muscle aches, lessens a fever, and supports good digestion. Water also acts in a similar way that guaifenesin does by actually thinning mucus—How’s that for an inexpensive alternative??

We hope this information has cleared the fog of traditional OTC cough and cold medications…BUT have you considered the non-traditional??? Did you know you have other options when treating the typical winter virus? Here’s what these TWO HOOTS recommend…

FIRST, consider taking additional Vitamin C at the first sign of a cold. Vitamin C, a water soluble vitamin,  boosts your immune system to help combat viruses. It also enhances absorption of iron in your body which also strengthens your immunity. We suggest starting with at least 1000mg daily while battling your illness, then decrease as you feel better. The limiting factor is GI upset; cut back if you experience loose stools.

SECOND, take Echinacea! If taken at the first sign of congestion or drainage, echinacea has been shown to minimize symptoms and possibly shorten the duration:) We also have a product, Viraclear (Integrative Therapeutics),  that is a homeopathic option for both upper and lower respiratory viruses.

Battling CONGESTION? We are big fans of saline nasal spray (Simply Saline is our favorite) or the use of a neti pot. In both cases, you are using a non-medicated salt solution to flush out debris and mucus from your sinuses. And it’s safe for all patient types!

For a runny nose we carry a product in our pharmacy called D-Hist ( Ortho-Molecular), an all-natural product that contains a combination of both herbs and nutrients. D-Hist works as an antihistamine. It does not cause drowsiness and can be taken safely with other prescription medications.

Finally, there are immune boosters that you can take year round, but especially in the winter months…they are: Vitamin D, probiotics, fish oil, and zinc!

So treat your cold with kindness, and possibly a few OTC products! Most colds last about a week, if your symptoms persist, or if you develop a fever or shortness of breath, you may need to see your doctor to rule out a bacterial infection. In the meantime, eat well, sleep well, and ENJOY the winter:) and remember—we give Two Hoots about Your Health!!

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