The cold hard truth about cold medicines: What works?

Almost one billion people will suffer from sniffles and sneezes this year. But when you go to the pharmacy to get your favorite cold medicine it may not be there. A panel of advisors for the FDA unanimously determined that the main ingredient used in many popular over-the-counter cold medications doesn’t work. The oral versions of phenylephrine found in NyQuil, Benadryl, Sudafed, and Mucinex aren’t effective. So, what do you do? New studies have shown which cold medicines and remedies work better than others.

Runny nose, scratchy throat, and a persistent cough. The average adult will suffer through the common cold two to four times a year. But when it comes to getting some relief, not all over-the-counter medicines are created equal.

Experts say medications containing acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen can effectively reduce fever and ease aches and pains. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays can help relieve stuffiness and congestion. Honey may help coughs in adults and children who are older than one. To soothe a sore throat, do a saltwater rinse. A quarter teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water could do the trick.

And new research reveals mixed reviews on a few favorites. Experts say vitamin C and echinacea won’t help the average person from catching a cold, but some studies show that if you take them before symptoms start, they may shorten the length of time you have symptoms.

Meanwhile, some studies show zinc reduces the length of a cold by about one day. What doesn’t work? Experts say to avoid antibiotics as these attack bacteria and colds are caused by a virus.

Amidst the search for the right medication, don’t underestimate the power of hydration. Water, herbal teas, and broths can soothe a sore throat, keep you hydrated, and help you get better, faster. And finally…

Ronan Factora, MD, Geriatrics Specialist at Cleveland Clinic said, “Make sure that you’re well rested and you get a good night’s sleep,”

Although it is not mandatory for stores to stop selling medications containing phenylephrine, many stores have already stopped stocking them. The FDA could potentially start a process that removes phenylephrine from the market altogether.

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