Cold season is here, and, as you know, there’s not a lot you can do to get rid of a cold virus. Your best option is to treat the symptoms and stay home so you don’t spread the cold to others.
When it comes to treating a cold at home, most of us are quick to run to the nearest general store to stock up on over-the-counter medicines like pain relievers and decongestants. But how safe are these medicines? Every medicine comes with risks, and determining if the benefits outweigh the possible problems is a case-by-case decision. Take a look at the risks of these common OTC cold treatments, then discuss them with your medical provider to determine if they’re still the right choice for relieving your cold symptoms.
Common OTC Children’s Meds
When our little ones are sick, we want to make them feel better fast. Over-the-counter cough and cold medications from trusted brands like Dimetapp and Robitussin seem like the best, safest choice to help them find relief. But according to Mayo Clinic pediatrician Jay L. Hoecker, M.D, these medications are the last thing you want to use for treatment. Dr. Hoecker stated in an interview with Mayo Clinic that studies failed to prove these medicines actually work in relieving symptoms. Even more concerning are the potential side effects of giving these drugs to your children, including fatal overdose in children under 2.
Dr. Hoecker advises against using cold and cough medicines in children under 6 and suggests even avoiding the use of these drugs in children under 12. Instead, Dr. Hoecker recommends other symptom relievers such as the use of a cool-mist humidifier and nasal saline for decongestion. Drinking lots of fluids, including cold beverages to help relieve sore throats, gargling salt water, and sucking on hard candy are other non-medicated options for providing symptom relief. The occasional use of over-the-counter children’s pain-relieving and fever-reducing medicine is considered safe when used as directed.
Common OTC Adult Meds
Much like our children, when we get a cold we want relief from our symptoms quickly, but much like our children’s over-the-counter medicines, our options aren’t without potentially serious risks.
OTC Pain Relievers
Acetaminophen is a popular headache and arthritis pain reliever and fever reducer. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is generally safe. But when you combine your daily dose of acetaminophen for arthritis relief or some other pain relief with a dose of combination cold medicine to relieve a stuffy nose, you’ve most likely exceeded your daily limit of acetaminophen. Too much acetaminophen leads to liver damage. If you drink alcohol while you’re taking acetaminophen, your risks increase even more.
Ibuprofen is another popular OTC pain reliever that’s actually a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. It’s effective in relieving headaches, body aches, and fever. Chronic use of ibuprofen can lead to peptic ulcers and even kidney damage. It also increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke, especially in smokers.
Decongestants open up nasal passages swollen shut from sinus inflammation. But if you have high blood pressure, these decongestants can send your blood pressure levels through the roof. Lowering your blood pressure with medication may not help either. Decongestants reduce or prevent blood pressure drugs’ effectiveness.
Decongesting nasal sprays work quickly to de-stuff a nose and have considerably fewer side effects than decongestant medicines, but if you use your spray more than the recommended 3 days in a row, your nose might just become dependent on the spray to breath better.
Antihistamines are the best choice for relief of allergy symptoms. Short-acting antihistamines like Benadryl work fast to give you relief, but they also give you something you don’t want in the middle of the day–the almost unavoidable urge to sleep. This side effect isn’t just risky if you’re working or driving, it’s especially hazardous to older adults who could suffer a fall from the drowsiness. Long-acting antihistamines like Claritin don’t typically cause drowsiness and only require one dose a day. To be safe, it’s best to ask your medical provider which type of antihistamine is right for you.
Combination Cold and Pain Relieving Meds
If you forget everything else in this article, remember this. Stay away from combination cold medicines! In addition to the problems they cause when combined with a separate dose of acetaminophen, OTC cold medicines that combine acetaminophen and the decongestant phenylephrine can result in very serious side effects including irregular heartbeat, extremely high blood pressure, and tremors.
The best way to treat your cold is with help or direction from your medical provider. Don’t have an appointment? That’s okay. EliteCare loves walk-ins! Visit us today to find safe relief of your cold symptoms.