Cough and Cold Products

May 1, 2012

By Linda Tran and Lindsay Alvero, Pharmacy Students at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

There seems to be a good number of people coming into the pharmacy for over the counter products for cough and cold these days. Most of the time, these people have no problem finding the correct aisle. I see the patients make their way to the aisle and freeze for a few seconds, from the dispensary, I can see the confusion look on their face. I dont blame them; there are many products available in the pharmacy for the common cough and cold. You may have seen products made by Tylenol, Advil, Buckleys, Benylin, Nyquil and so on. Each company also has their own different products for different symptoms such as runny nose, dry cough or congestion. With so many choices, which product is right for you? There are definitely many factors to consider when picking out the right product. Asking for help from your pharmacist can make the choice easier.


The common cold is caused by a virus called the rhinovirus and usually lasts about 7 to 10 days. Taking an over the counter medication can help with the symptoms of the cold such as annoying dry cough, a runny nose, chest and sinus congestion, fever and chills. Many patients automatically reach for the all-in-one or combination products. But did you know that some products contain up 3 to 4 different ingredients and that some of the ingredients are not really needed? Speaking to your pharmacist about the symptoms that you currently have can narrow down the choices and help to find the product best to help with your symptoms.


If you are choosing a product that contains a decongestant, keep in mind that you should not use it for longer than 5 to 10 days. Prolonged use of an oral decongestant product could lead to rebound congestion, making the situation even worse! As for the topical decongestants, such as the Otrivin nasal sprays, it should not be used for longer than 3-5 days. A good alternative for congestion is using saline nasal rinse or spray. These products do not contain medicinal ingredients but can be used to help clear out your nasal passages to improve breathing and decreasing congestion. Another good trick is to get a cup of warm water and breathe in the steam; this also helps to clear your nasal passages. These non-medicinal methods of treatment are good to keep in mind for children. It is now no longer recommended that children under the age of 6 receive medication for cough and cold symptoms. Children under the age of 6 should only be given Tylenol or Advil for fevers. Aside from that, children cough and cold symptoms should be managed with proper hydration, a healthy diet and rest.


Antihistamines are used to help with runny nose, sneezing and they could help you sleep. Before using a product that contains an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine, make sure you know how you react to the product. This is especially important before you operate heavy machinery or a vehicle, as it may cause some drowsiness.


If you have a wet cough, you want to select a product that contains guaifenesin, Guaifenesin helps to break up phlegm to help relieve chest congestion.


If you have a dry hacking cough, an ingredient called dextromethorphan can help suppress your cough. As you can see, there are many different ingredients in cough and cold products. So speak to your pharmacist to help tailor your treatment to your symptoms.


If you are diabetic, it is important to note that some products contain alcohol and/or sugars and these could drastically affect your blood glucose level. It is very important for you, as a diabetic patient, to ensure that the product clearly indicates alcohol free and sucrose free. And remember; feel free to ask your pharmacist for help if you are not sure which product is safe for diabetics to use.


The common cold is well, common! And is easily spread to those around you; therefore proper hygiene is very important to help reduce the chances of you contacting or passing the cold on to your friends, family and coworkers. Regular hand washing is always a good idea. Use soap and warm water and make sure you scrub between your fingers, under your nails, your wrists and dont forget your thumb. Remember to cover your coughs and sneezes using the crook of your elbow, never your hands! Carrying around hand sanitizer is also a good idea for those times that you do not have access to a sink to wash your hands. If you have any other questions feel free to stop by or call the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy and we would be more than willing to help you!

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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.


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