There are a lot of cold, flu and influenza meds on the market. Some work pretty well; others, not so much. And most have side effects, even when taken short-term. That’s why it’s usually a good bet to start with home remedies, which often provide relief and tend to be safer than some drugs.
NO MORE DRUGS FOR ME PLEASE
Aches and Fever
* Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve)
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THEY? All ease body aches and reduce fever – TREATMENT.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS? Acetaminophen is safe when used as directed, but taking even a little more than the daily max can harm the liver. The other drugs–nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDs–can cause intestinal bleeding and increase the risk of heart attack and kidney damage.
WHAT THEY CAN INTERACT WITH Acetaminophen plus alcohol increase the risk of bleeding when taken with a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix).
* A cool compress or sponge bath.</> Either measure can help some if a temperature spikes and you don’t have acetaminophen or other fever medication in your medicine cabinet. And note that it is okay to let a fever run its course if it stays under 101 degree F.
That’s because the high temperature is part of the bod’s efforts to kill the offending germs.
* Oxymetazolinenasal spra (Afrin, Dristan Mucinex Sinus-Max Nasal Spray, Vicks Sinex Severe Nasal Spray)
* Phenylephrine (Equate Congestion Suphedrine PE Nasal Decongestant, Sudafed PE Congestion)
* Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed 12 Hour)
* Camphor, eucalyptus, or menthol rubs (Mentholatum, Vick VapoRub)
HOW EFFECTIV ARE THEY? The sprays work within minutes, faster than pills. Topicals can improve the flow of air through your nasal passages.
WHAT ARE THE RISK? Topicals can irritate the skin. Spray can worsen stuffiness if taken for longer than three days. Oral meds can raise blood pressure; cause insomnia, heartbeat abnormalities, tremors, anxiety, and hallucinations; and worsen glaucoma, thyroid disease, and symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
WHAT THEY CAN INTERACT WITH Oral drugs combined with older antidepressants such as isocarboxazid (Marplan) and tranyleypromine (Parnate) make side effects much more likely, and they should not be taken together.
* Chicken soup
Modern science provides some backup for chicken soup’s reputation for easing congestion, coughs, and sore throats. Research suggests that it may inhibit the buildup of neutrophils, white blood cells that trigger the body’s inflammatory response and contribute to the aches and pains that accompany a cold and the flu. And the hot liquid and steam from more directly, by opening up swollen airways and thinning mucus.
* Neti pots
Nasal irrigation–a saltwater rinse for your nasal passages–eases congestion from allergies and could help when it stems from a cold or the flu, too. There are two main forms: One squeezes saline into the nostrils from a squeeze bottle or bulb syringe.
The other-a teapot-shaped device called a neti pot-uses gravity: Tilt your head sideways, then pour saline into the upper nostril; the liquid flows into one nasal cavity and out the other. To be safe, make sure you use distilled water or water that has been boiled, then cooled, and clean the device with distilled or boiled water after each use as well.
* Steam inhalation
Warm warter vapor may help loosen mucus. Though it’s unclear whether that translate into reduced congestion, many people swear by it. Showering may be safer than putting your head over a piping hot pot of water, which could scald.
* Cool-mist humidifiers
The FDA says these devices can help shrink swelling in nasal passages and allow easier breathing. And the humidity can make it more difficult for flu viruses to survive. Just make sure to keep the device clean.
* Dextromethorphan (Robitussin Long Acting CoughGels, Vicks Dayquil Cough)
* Guaifenesin (Mucinex 12 Hour, Tab Tussin)
* Topical rubs, patches, and lozenges that contain camhor or menthol (Halls Menthol Cough Drops, Mentholatum, Vicks VapoRub)
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THEY? Guaifenesin, an expectorant, thins mucus, making coughs more productive. Dextromethorphan, a suppressant, blocks the cough reflex. Vapors from topicals can feel soothing. But it’s unclear whether any cough drug reduces episodes of coughing.
WHAT ARE THE RISK? Topicals can trigger rashes and a burning sensation. Oral drugs can lead to nausea and make you sleepy. High doses of dextromethorphan can cause rapid heartbeat, loss of coordination, and hallucinations.
WHAT THEY CAN INTERACT WITH Cough suppressants can cause increased sedation when taken with narcotics, sleeping pills, some antihistamines, or alcohol.
It tastes good and feels soothing, and a 2014 review suggest that it’s better than a placebo at easing coughs. Add a teaspoon or two to a cup of tea or consume it straight off the spoon.
And don’t worry: A little extra sugar when you’re sick won’t harm you. But one caution: Honey can contain the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which in rare cases can damage muscles and nerves in babies. So don’t give it to infants younger than a year old.
Runny Nose and Sneezing
* Antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), chlorpheniramine (Aller-Chlor), diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THEY? VERY, when symptoms stem from allergies, but a 2015 review of 18 trials concluded that the drugs have little benefit when symptoms are from a cold.
WHAT ARE THE RISK? Drowsiness, nausea, blurred vision, and difficulty urinating, and, with diphenhydramine, impaired coordination.
WHAT THEY CAN INTERACT WITH Taking chlorpheniramine or diphenhydramine with narcotics, sleeping pills, or alcohol makes sedation more likely. Taking cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine with certain antifungals or antibiotics increase the risk of side effects.
Antacids with aluminum or magnesium, and grapefruit and certain other juices can make fexofenadine less effective.