With OTC Meds
Do I Need to See
By far the most common of the acute upper respiratory problems is the common cold. There is no practical cure yet for the common cold, so basically you end up treating the symptoms while your bodies immune system deals with it.
The common duration is 5 to 7 days, usually with only a couple of bad nights. There are hundreds of variants of the virus that causes the cold, and they can each have slightly different symptoms, but in general, here are my recommendations. Take the products as dictated by your particular symptom mix.
The lozenges (Cold Eeze and others) have been shown to have some merit in reducing the duration of the common cold. They have almost no side effects and should be used as directed at the beginning of a cold. The only side effect is occasional upset stomach, especially if you over use them.
Zicam "cold remedy" spray is a real medicine. It is incorrectly sold as a homeopathic remedy in pharmacies everywhere. Two well designed studies show it to be dramatically effective in reducing the duration of the common cold. My family and I use it. I have had several 1 or 2 day coldswhen I have uses it. It lacks credibility because it is unknown how it works and because it wasn't introduced using the proper modern medicine approval process.
If willing to "risk it" (Zicam "Cold Remedy" spray) can really help shorten the duration of a common cold.
It is perhaps a risk because there are reports of people having reduction or loss of smell after using the product. It is not rare to suddenly lose your smell, sometimes permanently, during a viral upper respiratory infection. I suspect that some of these cases were viral induced anosmia, but Zicam got the blame. The product now comes on swabs, the premise being that you can't inadvertently get the medicine high enough in your nose to come in contact with the smell nerves if you apply it with a swab.
I often will use both Zicam spray and zinc lozenges at once. I cross my fingers and hope that the reports of smell loss are just "flukes" and I try not to spray it high up in my nose where the smell nerves reside. It is irritating and will give you some irritation at first and may make you sneeze. If you use them, it is important to start them as soon as you first notice the signs that suggest you have a cold.
Even though pain and fever are usually not part of a cold there are negative sensations. Sore throat, scratchy feelings, minor muscle aches, and headaches are common. Take ibuprofen, for an adult, I usually recommend taking 2 of them (400 mg) every 8 hours around the clock until the infection is over. It really helps many of the symptoms in subtle ways. Unless you have some uncommon problem, it is almost unheard of to have trouble with ibuprofen used for only 5 or so days. Read the label.
The stuffy nose is usually the most annoying symptom. oxymetazoline nasal sprays are the best of the decongestant sprays and are more effective than decongestant pills at opening your nose up plus they have less potential side effects. Get a generic. The name-brands may have a better spray bottle mechanism. This type of medicine should only be used for 3 or 4 days at a time, period. After that you must quit using it or your nose will develop a "rebound phenomenon".
Get 12 hour time release generic pseudoephedrine . These are now often kept behind the counter because they are an ingredient in illicit drug manufacture. I think that a morning dose of 60 mg of time released pseudoephedrine. A full 12 hour dose is 120 mg, but that is a bit much for many people. When doctors prescribe expensive decongestants, they are almost always just time release pseudoephedrine mixed with some a mucous thinner. There are hundreds of prescription brands with fancy names, the only differences between them are minor variations in the amounts of the mixture.
Dextromethorphan is possibly not as effective as we once hoped. Recent studies suggest that dextromethorphan is ineffective in children, at least. It is one of only two ingredients likely to be helpful and by far the most common cough ingredient in OTC cough preparations.
Codeine is slightly effective and is available "over-the-counter" as a schedule V narcotic, i.e. you have to plead your case to the pharmacist but do not need a doctors visit. The most common brand is called Robitussin - AC each 5 mL (1 teaspoonful) contains: Guaifenesin, US P. 100 mg & Codeine Phosphate, US P. 10 mg. If you have cough that is keeping you awake at night, or comes in long spurts that are wearing you out, ask for some. If you just have an occasional cough or if it is producing a lot of junk, it is probably best not to take medicine to suppress it.
Treating a Cold
With OTC Meds
With OTC Meds
Problems with OTC