The Common Cold

The common cold is caused by a virus. It is usually not serious and goes away on its own in one to two weeks. Symptoms often include: runny or stuffed nose, sore throat, cough, body aches, headache, sneezing, watery eyes, low fever and feeling tired. There is no cure for the common cold. Over the counter medicines (OTC) can help with symptoms.

Choosing a cold medicine can be very confusing. There are so many different products and brand names. Combination products with multiple ingredients are even more confusing. Below is a table of common ingredients/products and what they do. To make choosing a product easier, think about the symptoms you have and then look for ingredients that help those symptoms. You should only take one ingredient from each group at a time.
Type of Medicine What it Helps Products in this Group
Antihistamines Runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes Loratadine (Claritin), Cetirizine (Zyrtec), Fexofenadine (Allegra), Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
Decongestants Stuffed noses

*Note: People with high blood pressure should avoid these.
Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE, Sudogest PE, Neo-Synephrine)
Cough Relief To thin/break up mucus Guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin)
Reduce coughing Dextromethorphan (Delsym, Robitussin)
Pain/Fever Reducers Muscle pain/headache, lower fever Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), Naproxen (Aleve)
Combination Products Have different combinations of above ingredients. Treats many symptoms at once.

*Note: Do not take more than one product that has the same ingredient at the same time.
Tylenol Cold/Flu, DayQuil, Robitussin DM, Coricidin HBP, Dimetapp, Theraflu, Triaminic

*Note: In choosing a product, pick one that has only the ingredients you need to help your symptoms. Products will list the ingredient and type of medicine on the label.


Alternative Medicine

There are also natural products that may help with cold symptoms. Some products claim they can stop you from catching a cold too. However, they have not all been shown to work. These can still cause side effects. If you try one of these products, follow the label directions and use carefully.
  • Zinc: May shorten colds. Take as soon as symptoms start (within 24 hours). Best if taken every two hours while awake. May or may not help.
  • Vitamin C: May decrease how bad a cold gets. Take before symptoms start. May or may not help.
  • Honey: Helps sore throats and cough. Do NOT give to infants. Already in many cough medicines.
  • Elderberry Syrup (Sambucus): May help shorten cold. Take within 48 hours of first symptoms. Has been shown to help.
  • Echinacea: May decrease length of cold and how bad it gets. Do not take for a long time. May or may not help.
  • Pelargonium Sidoides (Geranium): May help treat symptoms. Has shown some usefulness, but doubts still exist.
  • Garlic: May help prevent colds. Unsure if works in treating colds due to little information.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: May help with many symptoms. Not shown to work.