Colds and the flu are among the most frequent reasons people miss work or school. Adults average two or three colds a year, and as much as 20 percent of the U.S. population gets influenza every flu season. (1) There is no cure for the common cold or the flu, but most cases can be managed at home.
At-home treatments include plenty of bed rest, avoiding physical exertion, and drinking fluids to prevent dehydration. Any type of fluid other than alcohol is fine, but it’s a good idea not to consume a lot of caffeinated beverages, which can disrupt sleep.
“Most people can help ease their symptoms by getting plenty of rest and staying well hydrated with fluids,” says, professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Allowing yourself to rest, especially while you have a fever, also gives your body the strength it needs to fight the virus.”
Does Over-the-Counter Cold Medicine Help?
Over-the-counter pain and fever reducers or decongestants can lessen cold and flu symptoms, but they will not treat the underlying viral infection.
There are many nonprescription products available to manage cold and flu symptoms, including:
- Cough suppressants, like Robitussin; or expectorants, like Mucinex
- Throat lozenges
Still, these medicines have side effects and can pose a health risk in patients with pre-existing conditions like, or
Though rare, taking too much acetaminophen can be dangerous to the liver and may be unrecognized because so many cold and flu preparations contain acetaminophen.
Acetaminophen is included in multiple remedies for colds or sinus symptoms,” says president of Pain Specialists of Greater Chicago in Illinois. “If an individual is not aware of this fact, he may unintentionally expose himself to amounts of acetaminophen in the danger zone.”
When taking over-the-counter cold medicines, tally up the combined amount of acetaminophen in all of the products you are using. Make sure you are not taking more than the FDA’s recommended maximum daily dose of 4,000 milligrams. (2)
According to a report published in 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine, medicines that combine acetaminophen with the decongestant can cause serious side effects, including dizziness and tremors. (3)
The FDA warns that the use of , such as ibuprofen and naproxen, increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. Frequent use of NSAIDs over long periods of time is also associated with gastrointestinal bleeding. (4)
Children and teenagers ages 18 and under should not take aspirin due to risk of a rare but serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.