How to Find the Best Cold Medications

We all know the main contenders for cold and flu medications- they’re the general go to when a bad cold hits. In contrast to the flu, a common cold can be caused by many different types of viruses. The condition is usually harmless and symptoms usually resolve within two weeks. Symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion. High fever or severe symptoms are reasons to see a doctor, especially in children. But you can typically expect to treat a cold with over the counter medications and recover quickly.

But what many people don’t know is that many cold medications have a specific symptom they specialize in. So to make it easy, we are going to break down which cold medicine treats a specific symptom the best. That way if you have a persistent cough, you aren’t choosing a medication that is best for runny nose. Keep in mind, that these recommendations are based on symptom management. It is not meant to replace the advice from a healthcare provider. So if you have chronic illnesses or are pregnant, please speak to your doctor about finding the best option for you.

Best Cold Medicine for Coughing (Dry vs. Wet)

Coughing can be a persistent and annoying symptom. Shutterstock.

Not all coughs are made the same. Depending on what type of cold virus you have, your cough could vary from “wet” to “dry”. A wet, productive cough produces phlegm or mucus from the lungs or sinuses. The cough sounds soupy and may come with a wheezing or rattling sound and tightness in your chest. Doctors do not recommend medicines that suppress a cough for people with a wet cough. The reasoning behind that is because when you are actively trying to cough up the debris from your lungs, that’s your body’s way of getting rid of it. If you don’t cough, it sits there and could cause more trouble. People with a wet cough may take guaifenesin. This is an expectorant that manufacturers claim can help loosen mucus and phlegm. For a dry cough, you could take a cough suppressant such as dextromethorphan. This ingredient is present in many cold and flu medicines. It acts on parts of the brain to stop a person from coughing.

Best Cold Medicine for Runny Nose

A runny nose can be a miserable symptom of a cold. Shutterstock.

This can sometimes be a first indicator of a cold coming on – or it could confuse some people. Allergy sufferers will know better than anybody that a runny nose could be an indicator for many things. If you are uncertain whether or not your runny nose is due to a cold virus or allergy, try an antihistamine first. The bad news for a runny nose paired with a cold is that not many medications can actually fix a runny nose due to a virus. One thing you could try with a runny nose and cold could be topical anticholinergics. Ipratropium bromide 0.03% is a nasal spray and may help reduce a runny nose. However, this medicine requires a prescription from a doctor.

Best Cold Medicine for Children

A child or toddler being sick can break your heart, so medications are the best bet for your little one. Shutterstock.

The Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) does not recommend OTC medications for children under two years of age. But talking to a doctor about proper dosage for acetaminophen is going to be the safest option for a sick baby. Cold symptoms in toddlers under two years old can feel like a scary ordeal, but a cold typically disappears in their own with time. A cold will typically run its course in a week or two. It becomes a bit easier to treat symptoms when a child is over two years of age. Most of the medications that you find for children will be the general multi-symptom treatment. While it may seem like adult and children medications have the same ingredients, it’s important to remember that the two can be very different. There are special formulations of both of these medicines for children and infants. Avoid giving adult formulations to children of this age to ensure safe dosing. A pharmacist can help a person select a suitable medicine. Dimetapp often sells symptom-specific medication for children specializing in congestion and cough.

Best Cold Medicine for Congestion

Congestion. Shutterstock.

Congestion can be maddening. When you get hit with a cold and you’re already miserable, congestion can be truly miserable. You just want to take a deep breath! Well, luckily, there are many OTC medications that specialize in relieving this particular symptom. Topical nasal sprays offer quick relief but may cause rebound congestion with overuse. People should restrict using decongestants to a maximum of three days in a row. Oral decongestants, including pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, are effective for the short-term relief of nasal congestion. However, some people may experience less than pleasant side effects from decongestants ranging from insomnia to blood pressure issues. Some cold medicines contain other ingredients, such as antihistamines which can have the added benefit of making you fall asleep if you’re particularly miserable.