OTC Cold Medicines



Cold and flu season is challenging for many people as the common cold onsets are frequent. However, OTC cold medicines relieve cold symptoms and make them manageable. With various products available, it becomes difficult to determine the proper medication for colds and flu. This blog guides on different types of OTC cold medicines and their specific uses for your cold and flu symptoms.

Common Cold Symptoms and When to Use OTC Cold Medicines

The common cold symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

OTC medicines alleviate these symptoms. It's best to use OTC cold medicines at the onset of symptoms to give relief quickly.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best OTC Cold Medicine

When choosing the best OTC cold medicine, there are several factors to consider:

  • Choose the best cold medicine targeting the specific symptoms you are experiencing.
  • Some OTC medicines are not suitable for children or older adults.
  • If the patient has underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure or liver disease, avoid taking OTC cold medicines without a doctor's consultation.
  • Some OTC medicines react with other medications, so refrain from self-medication.
  • Reckon the side effects and avoid taking cold medicines more than the recommended dose.

Types of OTC Cold Medicines

Following are the types of OTC cold medicines:


Decongestant medications relieve congestion by reducing inflammation in the blood vessels within your nasal passages. It allows for improved airflow and mucus drainage, relieving stuffiness and congestion.

Types of Decongestants

  • Decongestants: They are available in oral tablets, liquids, and nasal spray forms. Some common OTC decongestants include:
  • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed): Available in regular and extended-release tablets, as well as in combination products.
  • Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE): Available as a tablet, liquid, and quick dissolve strip, as well as in combination with cold medicines.
  • Oxymetazoline (Afrin, Anefrin, Dristan, Mucinex, Vicks Sinex, Zicam): This is commonly found in OTC nasal spray decongestants that relieve nasal passages.


Analgesics relieve fever and lessen headaches, body aches, and fever associated with colds and flu. They are available in tablets, capsules, liquids, and chewable tablets.

Some common over the counter medicine include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

Cough Medicines

Cough suppressant medications reduce coughing by suppressing the cough reflex. They are in various forms, including tablets, capsules, and syrups. Cough suppressants effectively reduce cough but cause side effects such as drowsiness.

Types of Cough Medicines

There are two types of cough medicines:

  • Antitussives (cough suppressants): These medications suppress dry, non-productive coughs by reducing the cough reflex. They are often used for nighttime relief to promote restful sleep.
  • Expectorants: These medications ease chest congestion and thin mucus, making coughing up and clearing the lungs easier. They are used for productive, wet coughs during the day.

Dry Cough & Chest Medicines

Dextromethorphan (Delsym, Robitussin DM, Mucinex DM, Tussin DM) is a generic antitussive used to suppress dry coughs.

Guaifenesin (Robitussin Chest Congestion, Mucinex, Tussin Chest, Kids-EEZE): This is the only FDA-approved expectorant used to loosen chest congestion and improve cough productivity.

These medicines are not to be used for children under four years.


Antihistamines effectively reduce the impact of these reactions as it impedes histamine - a chemical substance responsible for triggering unwanted allergic responses - from functioning properly within our bodies.

Common OTC cold medicines are:

These OTC medicines' effectiveness in treating cold symptoms is less specific. The common antihistamines side effects are drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, irritability, and constipation.

Multi-Symptom Treatment Medications

Multi-symptom treatments are combination medications to address various cold and flu symptoms in a single dose. These formulas typically include a mix of analgesics, decongestants, antihistamines, expectorants, and cough suppressants.

How to Take OTC Cold Medicines Effectively?

To consume OTC cold medicines, you can follow the below-given steps:

  • Read the label carefully before taking any over-the-counter medicine, and follow the instructions closely.
  • Take the recommended dose of the medication.
  • Take OTC cold medicines with food or water to avoid stomach upset.
  • Avoid alcohol while taking OTC medicines, as it can increase the risk of side effects.

Side Effects of OTC Cold Medicines

OTC cold medicines are generally safe but can cause side effects such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage

To avoid these side effects, take OTC cold medicines only as directed and avoid taking more than the recommended dose. If you feel any side effects, stop consuming the medication and consult the general physician doctors near me for a better treatment plan.

When to Consult a General Physician for Cold Symptoms?

While over-the-counter medicine can effectively alleviate symptoms, it's essential to consult a general physician if your symptoms persist for an extended period.


  • Symptoms that worsen or do not improve
  • Fever lasting over three days is higher than 101.3 F (38.5 C).
  • Return of fever after a fever-free time
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Sinus pain


  • 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit Fever (38 degrees Celsius) in babies up to 12 weeks
  • Fever for more than two days
  • Severe symptoms include headaches, throat discomfort, and coughing.
  • Breathing difficulties or wheezing
  • Ear ache
  • Excessive fussiness
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Appetite loss

The doctor will determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and provide further treatment options if necessary.

Other Cold and Flu Remedies

  • Rest properly: Take additional time to sleep to help your body recover from the infection.
  • Drink fluids to stay hydrated: Drink hot liquids such as chicken soup, warm apple juice, or hot tea with honey to ease a sore throat and reduce congestion.
  • Try saline nose drops: Saline (in the form of nose drops, spray, or neti pot) can cleanse your nose, easing nasal congestion and stuffiness.


OTC cold medicines are an effective way to alleviate common cold symptoms. With an in-depth understanding of different medication categories and their precise uses, though - by exploring decongestants, painkillers, cough syrups, or antihistamines alongside multi-symptom medications - it becomes easier to make an educated decision regarding which is the best cold medicine dose for treating a cold. If symptoms increase, consult a general physician doctor near me. You can alleviate symptoms and return to your routine with the right medication and care.