WEDNESDAY, FEB. 1: We’ve all been in the pharmacy sniffling and coughing, looking through what seems to be an endless choice of over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications. It can be overwhelming to figure out which medications will work best for your particular symptoms. The best tip I can give is to read the labels and know what each active ingredient does.

I have outlined a breakdown of medications in this article by the types of symptoms each addresses.

Fever, Sore Throat, and Aches and Pains

Acetaminophen or paracetamol, which is more commonly known as Tylenol or Panadol, is a good option for headaches and other aches and pains. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen (Aleve) also work by cutting down on inflammation in your body.

Some products, such as Excedrin, contain both acetaminophen and NSAIDs.

Sneezing; Runny Nose; and Itchy, Watery Eyes

If you’re suffering from these symptoms, a product with an antihistamine is your best bet. These treat allergy symptoms, as well as cold symptoms. Following are common active ingredients to look for on the label:

  • Brompheniramine (Dimetapp Cold and Allergy Elixir)
  • Chlorpheniramine or Chlorphenamine (Piriton)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Doxylamine (NyQuil, Alka-Seltzer Plus Night Time Cold Medicine)

Loratidine (Claritin, Claritin RediTabs, Alavert, and others) is an example of the newer, second-generation antihistamines that are available OTC and do not possess the sedating effects of the older, first-generation antihistamines.


There’s nothing worse than not being able to breathe through your nose. Decongestants act by reducing the swelling of tissues in your nasal passage, making breathing easier and can either be taken orally or applied topically in the form of sprays or drops.

These medications include:

  • Pseudoephedrine (Contac Non-drowsy, Sudafed, Claritin-D, Allegra D)
  • Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE)
  • Oxymetolazone (Afrin, Vicks, Sinex)
  • Xylometazoline (Otrivin)

Be careful if you suffer from high blood pressure and are on medication for it. You should avoid oral decongestants as they can raise your blood pressure.


Cough medicines may be expectorants or cough suppressants. Expectorants thin mucus, so rather than stopping your cough, your cough will sound wet or be more “productive.” Look for the ingredient guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin, Meltus and Benylin Chesty). Cough suppressants actually stop you from coughing. A common OTC cough suppressant is dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM and Maximum Strength, Mucinex DM, Benylin Dry Cough).

Keep in mind that if you have a nasty cough, cold medications that include antihistamines and decongestants can help, but they may dry you out and make it harder to clear the cough.

Combination preparations containing one or more of the above drugs, sometimes along with pain and fever reducing drugs are common. These are available in both tablet and liquid form. The liquid preparations are particularly useful for children over the age of six who may need smaller doses. The thing to remember is to not take additional pain or fever reducing drugs if you are taking a combination medication that includes them. This is especially true for acetaminophen as taking too much of it increases the risk of liver damage. Combination decongestant/antihistamine medications can be well-tolerated since the stimulant effect of the decongestant and the sedative effect of the antihistamine often offset each other.

If you’re still having a hard time navigating the cold medication aisle, talk to the pharmacist. With a little information about ingredients, you may be able to get better symptom relief during cold season this year.

Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire and the new pharmacy at Lindo’s Family Foods in Warwick. For helpful information, visit Lindo’s at