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The Only Cold and Flu Guide You Will Ever Need This Season

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
OTC and Home Remedy Options for Treating Your Cold and Flu

Are you confused about the best way to treat your or your family’s cold and flu this year? Here’s an overview of the only cold and flu guide you will ever need this season prepared by the researchers at Consumer Reports.


The average American can expect to get 2-3 colds a year with 20 percent of the population catching a flu bug as well. And it’s no mystery why. Surrounded by people in enclosed spaces, we are all biological targets for coughs and sneezes that can travel 6 feet or further at speeds faster than we can hold our breath and turn our heads away while trying to sidestep the path of the noxious stranger.

And once you are sick, what do you do? According to a Consumer Reports survey, many respondents complained that the options for self-treatment are too varied and confusing when it comes to treating their cold or flu.

Here’s some Practical Advice for Cold and Flu Season

“Dealing with the cold and flu shouldn’t be so complicated. A number of simple steps can help, many that don’t require drugs at all,” states Consumer Reports’ chief medical advisor Dr. Marvin M. Lipman.

Here's a fun and informative YouTube video explaining colds and the flu:

To help consumers navigate what works best for most cold and flu sufferers, here is what they recommend when illness hits home with a focus on your choices between OTC drugs and home remedies:


OTC drugs: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) all work great for relieving body pain and reducing fever; however, taking slightly more than the maximum dose recommended on the label can potentially be fatally harmful or at the very least damaging to your organs. Tylenol and alcohol should be avoided. You also need to be aware that taking a NSAID when you are on blood thinners such a warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix) increases your risk of bleeding.

Home remedies: It’s okay to let a fever run its course as long as it stays under 101 degrees F. However, cool compresses and/or a sponge bath are natural non-drug ways to bring a fever down that goes above 101 degrees.


OTC drugs: While Consumer Reports lists multiple oral OTC meds that will do the job, the oral drug options also carry the risk of a wide range of side effects. The safer considerations are the nasal sprays such as Oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan Mucinex Sinus-Max Nasal Spray, and Vicks Sinex Severe Nasal Spray), all of which work within minutes. However, nasal sprays taken more than 3 days can lead to stuffiness. Topicals containing camphor, eucalyptus or menthol such as Mentholatum and Vicks Vapor Rub will improve the flow of air through your nose, but might also irritate the skin where applied.

Home remedies: Chicken soup is not an old wives’ tale, it’s a scientifically-backed recommendation for easing congestion, coughs and sore throats. Neti Pots via nasal irrigation has a strong history behind it as well for its effectiveness. Warm water vapor inhalation is debatable, but a hot shower won’t hurt either. Cool-mist humidifiers may be a better choice as it can help shrink swelling in the nasal passages and therefore make breathing easier.


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OTC Drugs: Dextromethorphan (Robitussin Long-Acting CoughGels, Vicks Dayquil Cough); Guaifenesin (Mucinex 12 Hour, and Tab Tussin) are common choices, but whether or not they really do stop coughing is unclear. Dextromethorphan suppresses the cough reflex whereas Guaifenesin thins mucous and makes coughing more productive. Topical rubs and lozenges containing camphor or menthol such as Halls Menthol Cough Drops and Vicks VaporRub mostly just make you feel better. Oral forms of these drugs have risks of rapid heartbeat and loss of coordination and sleepiness so they should not be taken with sleeping aids, antihistamines or alcohol.

Home remedies: Honey is a good choice and can be taken with tea as you try to stay hydrated or can be eaten from a spoon. Consumer Reports warns against giving honey to infants less than 1 year old.


OTC Drugs: Consumer Reports reminds readers that antihistamine drugs such as Zyrtec, Aller-Chlor, Benadryl Allergy, and Allegra work great for a runny nose and sneezing, but only if its due to allergies—not a cold, where studies show little benefit if any. Plus, there are side effects as well to taking these drugs, so it is best to avoid them if you have a cold.

Home remedies: None. Softened tissues and control the direction of where you sneeze is all you can do.


OTC Drugs: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) all work great for relieving sore throat pain. Throat sprays or lozenges that work as local anesthetics such as those with Benzocaine (Cepacol Extra Strength Sore Throat Sugar Free and Chloraseptic Warming Sore Throat Lozenges) or with Dyclonine (Sucrets Sore Throat Lozenges) or with Phenol (Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray) do the job as well for reducing pain without the added risks of typical pain relievers. However, high doses of benzocaine and dyclonine might in rare instances cause lightheadedness, fatigue, shortness of breath or an increased heart rate.

Home remedies: Gargling with salt water is a winner here as it is safe and does work. Simply dissolve 0.5 to 1.0 teaspoons of salt into 8 ounces of warm water, gargle, and spit it out. Repeat this a few times daily until the sore throat goes away.

For more in-depth info about treating that cold or flu, check out the January 2018 issue of Consumer Reports.

For more about natural remedies, here is an informative article on using probiotics as a natural remedy and for weight loss.

Your Feedback is Appreciated

If you have a home remedy that you swear by for treating the symptoms of a cold or flu, let us know in the comment section below what you use and where the remedy came from.

Reference: “How to Survive Cold & Flu Season” Consumer Reports Jan. 2018 issue.

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