Searching a wall of cold and flu products for the one that will make you feel better is enough to give anyone a headache. Don't just grab the box with the longest list of symptoms on the front; you could end up over-medicating with drugs you don't need. Instead, check the back label to find a product that targets only your symptoms. Here's what to look for to relieve specific symptoms:
Congestion: Look for a decongestant — phenylephrine is the most common.
Cough: Look for a cough suppressant — usually dextromethorphan. If a product has "DM" after its name, that means it contains dextromethorphan.
Mucus: Look for an expectorant, such as guaifenesin, which will help clear out phlegm. And yes, you can use a suppressant and an expectorant at the same time — they work differently. Suppressants decrease the cough reflex, while expectorants loosen mucus.
Sniffles, post-nasal drip: Look for an antihistamine, such as doxylamine or diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Be aware that these may cause drowsiness. They are often found in nighttime "P.M." products, and can increase the risk of falling, so those at risk should be cautious in taking these.
Body aches and fever: Look for analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil). Acetaminophen is in many cold and flu products, so if you're using more than one, take care not to go over the maximum dose.
Sore throat: Look for any analgesic product — or, if this is your only symptom, lozenges or sprays that contain menthol or benzocaine are good alternatives.
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