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Health Team

Stuffy nose? Dry cough? Here's how to pick the right cold medicine

Posted January 16, 2018 9:00 a.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2018 11:49 a.m. EST

— In cough and cold season, some people need to be especially cautious about cough and cold medicines — and everyone needs to pick right one for their symptoms.

Children, pregnant or nursing women and people with high blood pressure, glaucoma, thyroid disease or urinary retention problems should all make sure they're selecting the right drug.

There are many product options, but not all are safe or effective. When scanning pharmacy shelves for medications, it's a good practice to check the ingredients listed on the box.

Cleveland Clinic pharmacist Angela Giallourakis recommends first finding one that is safe.

"Count how many ingredients there are and then check the contraindications for if you have a disease state," said Giallourakis. "If you're taking a medication you can have overlap, maybe it causes a spike in blood pressure, or maybe it can be harmful with something you're taking."

A pharmacist can help you pick an appropriate medicine and then narrow the choice down to one that matches your symptoms.

Another tip? Stick to cold medicines rather than ones for allergies. Both have antihistamines, but cold medicines have the type designed to dry up a runny nose and post-nasal drip, which may also help relieve your cough.

If you have a dry cough that lingers for more than a few weeks, look for a "DM" product to stop the cough. However, DM medications are not for people with bronchitis.

Chest congestion combined with a cough that brings up mucus can be treated with guaifenesin products, which loosen mucus.

Lastly, if you feel stuffed up, find a decongestant. Pseudoephedrine products are more effective, but be ready with your photo ID in order to buy it.

Nasal sprays designed for congestion can also help a stuffy nose, but be careful not to use it for more than three days. Giallourakis recommends avoiding herbal products marketed for cough and cold symptoms, as they're not proven to be effective.

"Most are not recommended," said Giallourakis. "Things like vitamin C, and echinacea ccan help maybe shorten the duration or severity of symptoms, but it's very minor."