The best way to treat a common cold or seasonal flu is to get plenty of rest, eat healthily, and stay hydrated. That being said, some medications can help ease the symptoms like headaches, a stuffy or runny nose, annoying cough, and sore throat – and most of them can be bought over-the-counter at your pharmacy.
Here are eight medications that you should always keep in your medicine cabinet in case you get sick – because there can be nothing worse than having to get up and go shopping for medicine when you’re feeling under the weather.
1. Pain and Fever Relief
Pain relievers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are probably the most important over-the-counter medications to stock up on when you’re suffering from a cold or the flu.
Ibuprofen is similar to paracetamol in that it reduces pain, however, ibuprofen also helps lower fever, while the effect of paracetamol is similar to aspirin – it has analgesic (pain relieving) effects that can help with the symptoms of a cold, such as headaches, earache, and muscle aches.
2. A Decongestant
To help with the annoying stuffy nose that having a cold or the flu brings, use an oral or nasal decongestant for quick relief.
Decongestants work by shrinking swollen blood vessels and tissues to effectively reduce congestion, however, you should only use a nasal decongestant (nasal spray) for a maximum of three days. Nasal spray overuse can cause chronic sinusitis and other long-term problems, so try to only use it when you really need it.
3. Zinc Lozenges
Take zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold or the flu – zinc lozenges can reduce your illness’ duration by as much as 40%, especially if you take them within the first 24 hours.
Zinc is an important mineral that your body needs and it is vital for a good immune system. Studies have shown that zinc can inhibit the replication of rhinovirus or the common cold.
4. Saline Nasal Spray
Saline nasal spray is comprised of water, salt, and occasionally vitamin C. Saline nasal sprays moisten nasal passages to relieve the dryness that occurs when you have a common cold or flu, and they can also help to loosen congestion and stop inflammation of the nasal passages.
Saline nasal sprays can be bought over-the-counter and without a prescription, and they are safe to use for the duration of your cold or flu. You can also make your own saline nasal solution by mixing three teaspoons of non-iodized salt, one teaspoon of baking soda, and one cup of distilled or sterilized warm water.
Antihistamines can be brought over-the-counter at your pharmacy and can be effective at reducing congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and post-nasal drip. Antihistamines block a chemical in your body called histamine, which is responsible for making your nasal passages itch and swell.
If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, check with your doctor before taking antihistamines. Because antihistamines have the side effect of making you drowsy, only take them at night, preferably before you go to bed.
6. Cough Expectorant
Cough expectorants help with “wet,” productive coughs, and they help clear mucous secretions from your lungs. They also thin mucous in the bronchial passages and help to relieve chest congestion.
If your cough is dry and keeping you up at night, use a cough suppressant instead. Most cough expectorants can be bought over-the-counter.
7. Cough Suppressant
Cough suppressants are used for dry, unproductive coughs. They suppress the cough reflex. Cough suppressants are used for a dry, wheezing, or “hacking” cough that keeps you up at night or interferes with your daily activities.
Only use a cough suppressant when the cough is severe and preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Alternatively, try sucking lozenges and hard candies to moisten your throat and relieve the scratching or tickling feeling.
8. Throat Sprays and Lozenges
One of the first signs that you are coming down with something is a sore, scratchy throat, which is caused by the tissues of the throat becoming inflamed. Occasionally, a sore throat is caused by a strep infection, which is caused by bacteria.
To reduce the pain and inflammation associated with a sore throat from the common cold or seasonal flu, try soothing throat lozenges and throat sprays with numbing agents, such as Benzocaine and menthol. If your sore throat is caused by a strep infection, you’ll need antibiotics to treat it.