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Best over-the-counter medicines for cold and flu symptoms

Over-the-counter and shop bought cold and flu remedies aren't a cure – but they may be able to help ease symptoms of colds and flu.

These products should be used alongside taking rest if you can – and drinking plenty of fluids.

Here are some frequently asked questions about cold and flu remedies.

What helps with fever and aches?

Painkillers, including paracetamol and ibuprofen, can help with cold and flu symptoms. Paracetamol can sometimes be an ingredient of cold and flu remedies – so make sure you check the ingredients list on the packaging to avoid overdosing. Taking one product at a time is best. Don't mix ibuprofen and paracetamol treatments. Aspirin can also help – but this should not be given to under 16s. Also, ask for age-appropriate medication for children.

Do decongestants help unblock noses?

If you have congestion a decongestant may help ease a blocked nose. These may be tablets or nose sprays. Some cold and flu products have decongestant ingredients built in – so be careful about taking too much. Some decongestants can make you drowsy – so always check the label to make sure.

Taking decongestants for too long can actually make a blocked nose worse. Decongestants are not recommended for children under 6. Seek medical advice before giving them to children under 12.

Some decongestants can interfere with other medications being taken – so check the label first.

Will lozenges help my sore throat?

Some people find sucking special lozenges or sweets can help with a sore throat. Sucking menthol sweets can also help with a stuffy nose.

An alternative to a shop-bought rinse is gargling some salt water. Boil a pint of water – stir in a teaspoon of salt and allow to cool first before using.

Will taking extra vitamin supplements help colds or flu?

Some research suggests that taking zinc supplements soon after a cold comes on can help with a faster recovery and less severe symptoms.

Vitamin C is another approach some people take for colds – but there's not much evidence to back this up.

Are some treatments a waste of time?

Different things work for different people. Some people swear by remedies that other people find are not useful. The NHS specifically does not recommend these approaches for colds and flu because there's no evidence they work:

  • Antihistamines – these can help with allergy symptoms – not colds and flu
  • Cough treatments or syrups
  • Echinacea, Chinese herbal medicines and other complementary and alternative medicines.


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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 18, 2016

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