How do you choose the correct medication for your cold? The first step is to understand what a cold is and what its symptoms are. A cold is an infection caused by one of hundreds of different viruses. The usual spread is from airborne particles.
As you breathe in, the virus enters your body through the membranes which cover the eyes, nose or throat. Once it reaches the body’s cells, it multiplies. The period of time between entrance into your body and the full-blown cold is around two to three days; this is when you are most contagious. A cold generally lasts seven to 10 days, no matter what the season.
The main symptoms of a cold are caused by the inflammation the virus causes in the nose. Nasal discharge is usually watery at first and then thickens as the cold progresses. Your nose can become so stuffed up that you experience pain high up into the sinuses and into your ear canals. These symptoms can be treated effectively.
A cough is sometimes present with the common cold especially when there is a post-nasal drip from the sinuses into the back of the throat. If there is enough swelling high into the sinuses you may experience swelling around the eyes and headaches. These can also be treated effectively.
You must then know a few facts about the ingredients that may be in the various cold relief products before you can pick the best one to relieve the symptoms of your cold.
Acetaminophen is a well-known pain reliever. It can be useful in cold products for headaches due to sinus pain and for the general feeling of malaise that goes along with a cold. It is not known to produce stomach irritation and side effects are rare. If it used for extended periods of time at high doses, however, it may cause liver damage. The following chart lists the recommended dosages for all ages. These dosages are to be given every four to six hours with or without food.
These well-known pain relievers are similar to acetaminophen but have anti-inflammatory properties as well which means they reduce inflammation. These are a good choice for sinus pain unless you have a sensitive stomach. Ibuprofen and aspirin are much alike. Both of these are hard on the stomach and may cause heartburn, nausea or bleeding from the stomach lining. If you are on medication for thinning the blood, these may further increase your bleeding time causing possible complications. You should consult your pharmacist or doctor before taking either of the above ingredients.
These are the most common decongestants that you can take by mouth to relieve your stuffy nose. Oral decongestants work by shrinking the blood vessels in the nasal passages, thus reducing the swelling. This makes it easier to breathe and helps the sinuses to drain. These drugs are also stimulants, however, causing a possible increase in heart rate. They may keep you awake at night. Try taking the medication during the day to see how your body reacts to it. These decongestants should be used with caution in children, those with diabetes, pregnant women, and anyone with liver, kidney or heart disease, high blood pressure or glaucoma. Be sure to consult with your pharmacist or your doctor.
These are the most common decongestants used in nasal sprays to help relieve your stuffy nose. They work faster than the decongestants taken by mouth but can only be used for three days in a row. If you use them for longer than three days you can experience a phenomenon known as rebound congestion where you become dependent on the nasal spray in order to be able to breathe properly. This can be very damaging to the tissue in the nose. These nasal sprays can be very useful in people who can not take oral decongestants for medical reasons and they do not keep you up at night or increase your heart rate.
These are common antihistamines used in cold preparations. The benefit they provide comes from the side effects of the medication. These antihistamines are sedating and counteract the stimulating effects of decongestants when they are combined in a product. Your sleep should be less disturbed. Another side effect of this group of antihistamines is the drying action of the nasal mucosa, which may make the cold better or worse depending on the stage it is at.
Generally, antihistamines are not recommended for treatment of symptoms from colds. People with difficulty in urination due to an enlarged prostate, angle-closure glaucoma or heart diseases should not use these antihistamines.
Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant that may temporarily control a cough. The most common cough associated with the common cold is the “post-nasal drip” cough where secretions from the nasal passages drip into the back of the throat producing a reflex cough. Dextromethorphan may help to relieve this type of cough but is used mainly to treat a dry, hacking cough that often sticks around past the end of the cold. This drug is relatively free of side effects, mildly sedating, and is safe for those with most medical conditions.
Colds may produce a lot of mucus in the upper as well as the lower respiratory tract. This can cause a cough which producse a very thick sputum. Guaifenisin is intended to help loosen the mucus in the chest and make it easier to cough up. This drug is well tolerated, although rarely it may cause nausea.
Once you understand the role played by the medicinal ingredients listed on the boxes of cold products, selecting the right product is not difficult. Determine the symptoms you want to manage and find a product that contains only the ingredients to help your symptoms without causing unwanted effects that may interfere with your daily activities.
Cold products can be helpful in relieving symptoms of the common cold if taken correctly. They are not a cure, and do not shorten the duration of the cold. There are many medical conditions and circumstances that you may have which make selecting a product very difficult and possibly dangerous. When in doubt, it is important to ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice in choosing the proper treatment.