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A Look Inside My Medicine Cabinet: The 5 Over-the-Counter Medications I keep on Hand to Stop Colds Before They Start

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Guess what? It’s that time of year again. The time when the weather starts to change and our noses start to run. As we gear up for another cough and cold season, I want you to be armed and ready. That’s why I’m giving you a look inside my medicine cabinet. Here is your exclusive guide on what you need to purchase from the cough and cold aisle:

#1- Non-Drowsy Antihistamine (Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin)

When my nose gets stuffed up or is running, the cause is either my allergies acting up or a cold coming on. However, the actual cause does not concern me because the treatment is the same- an antihistamine. This medication is so important because it “turns off the faucet.”  In other words, it stops my nose (the faucet) from running.

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is also an antihistamine. But, I do not use it because it causes drowsiness and a handful of other unwanted side effects and adverse reactions. Seniors are the most vulnerable to these side effects and should not take Bendadryl.lⓇ

#2- Expectorant (Mucinex or guaifenesin- a generic ingredient found in store brands)

However, sometimes I don’t get to “turn off the faucet” in time and post-nasal drip will start to trickle down my throat and into my chest. This trickle quickly starts to build up into phlegm, causing me to cough. In order to get that phlegm out of my chest, I take an expectorant. Once I am able to cough up the phlegm, I am careful to take a look at it’s color. Green is a sign of bronchitis, while red is indicative of pneumonia, both of which warrant a call to my physician.

#3 Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)

Not “turning off the faucet” in time not only builds up phlegm in my chest, but it gives me a sore throat. In this case I take ibuprofen because it stops the pain, while also reducing the swelling and redness in my throat. Note: If you can not take ibuprofen, you can use sore throat lozenges or a numbing spray. Acetaminophen (Tylenol ) is also an option, but it does not do anything for the swelling and redness in the throat).

Moving on from my faucet analogy, I do get a head cold from time to time. With a head cold I also use ibuprofen, but for different reasons. In this case, l will be taking it for sinus pain and headache. Again, acetaminophen (Tylenol ) is an option here if you can not take ibuprofen.  

#4 Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or Phenylephrine (SudafedPE)

With a head cold, the root cause of my sinus pain and headache is pressure. In order to relieve this pressure, I will take pseudoephedrine. Under the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005, pseudoephedrine must be sold behind the pharmacy counter. After the passage of this act, drug companies began replacing the pseudophedrine in their products with phenylephrine.  This is also a decongestant that will help with sinus pressure and congestion. However, many of my patients, including myself, find that it does not work as well as pseudoephedrine. Additionally, both pseudophedrine and phenylephrine may increase your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, please consult your physician before taking.

#5 Simply SalineⓇ

Lastly, I use Simply Saline to clear my sinuses of snot, either from a head cold or allergies. Because this product is just saline, I can use it as many times a day as I want to. To use, I tilt my head to one side, while spraying Simple Saline into the opposite nostril. So if I tilt my head to the right, I will spray saline up the left nostril until I feel it run into my right sinus cavity. Then I repeat on the left side, spraying saline up my right nostril. I then blow my nose to get rid of of all the snot and congestion contributing to my sinus pressure and pain.

A trip down the cough and cold aisle can be confusing and frustrating, especially when you are not feeling well. There are so many products to choose from, and all of the products look the same. However, the above over-the-counter medications should be just about all you need to get through this upcoming cold season. Be sure to stock up on these items before cough and cold season starts so you can “turn off that faucet” as soon as it starts running.

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