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Treating Cold Symptoms

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

A cold, an upper respiratory infection, “The Sinus.” You don’t care what it’s called, you just want to feel better! A trip to the pharmacy can be quite confusing. There are a million medicines with complicated names. What do you do? Well, hopefully this guide can help. ***

The first step is identifying your symptoms. Is it a stuffy nose that’s your biggest issue? A cough? Headache? Drainage? Different medicines treat different symptoms.

1) Nasal Congestion/Stuffy Nose: One of the most common symptoms of a cold, an upper respiratory infection, or a sinus infection is a stuffy nose. This isn’t to be confused with a runny nose, where snot, or thick mucus, is coming out of your nose. If you can’t breathe through your nose and nothing is coming out, most likely you are suffering from swelling of the tissue in your nose, most commonly, your turbinates. Being unable to breathe through your nose can be pretty miserable. It forces you to breathe through your mouth, causing your throat to get dry and scratchy. It can also feel claustrophobic. So, what is there to do?


  • Pseudoephedrine (AKA Sudafed): a decongestant that shrinks blood vessels in the nasal passages and relieve nasal congestion (stuffy nose). It is very effective, but be sure to make sure that you are safe to take this medicine as it can interact with certain medicines and can make certain medical conditions worse (especially high blood pressure).

  • Phenylephrine: a decongestant that helps relieve nasal congestion. It is less powerful than pseudoephedrine, and caution is also advised for use with certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure.

  • Antihistamines (AKA chlorpheniramine): While antihistamines aren’t as effective as the other two, they are generally safe for those with heart disease.

Nasal Sprays

  • Oxymetazoline (AKA Afrin, Sinex): This nasal spray is VERY effective at relieving a congested/stuffy nose. Almost TOO good. Which is why it should only be used for 3-5 days, or you risk making the problem worse.

  • Nasal steroid sprays (AKA Flonase, Nasacort): Nasal steroids are great for relieving nasal swelling. They don’t work immediately, like Afrin, though. They’re especially useful during allergy season or to treat chronic sinus disease.

  • Nasal saline sprays/rinses: Nasal saline is a great, natural way to relieve nasal symptoms. Rinses help sweep away snot, bacteria, and allergens from your nose. During very bad sinus symptoms, I suggest using a few puffs of Afrin, waiting a few minutes, then rinsing your nose in a hot, steamy shower for maximum effectiveness.


  • Menthol (AKA Vicks Vaporub): Mentholated products help relieve a cough and a stuffy nose. Like Afrin, prolonged use can make the problem worse, so only use for a few days.

  • Essential Oils: Eucalyptus and Peppermint Oil both contain components similar to Menthol. They can also be effective for relieving a cough or stuffy nose. Like Afrin or mentholatum, prolonged use can make the problem worse, so only use for a few days. Be careful using these products around people with asthma, as they can be irritative to the lungs.

2) Runny Nose/Drainage:

  • Guaifenesin (AKA Mucinex): Products with guaifenesin help thin the mucus. They’re effective for those coughing on thick, sticky mucus.

  • Nasal saline sprays/rinses, Decongestants: The same medications that relieve a stuffy nose caused by swollen nasal tissues, are going to help dry your nasal drainage.

3) Sinus Pressure:

  • Decongestants, Nasal Steroid Sprays: The same medications that relieve a stuffy nose caused by swollen nasal tissues, are going to help your sinus pressure, which is also caused by swollen nasal tissues.

4) Cough:

  • Dextromethorphan (AKA Robitussin): This cough suppressant will help relieve that tickle in your throat making you cough.

  • Cough drops: Cough drops containing mentholatum or pectin can help sooth a scratchy throat. Take care not to use mentholated cough drops for longer than a few days, or that can cause irritation of the vocal cords, making you cough even more.

  • Honey, tea (non-caffeinated!): Nothing feels better on a sore, scratchy throat than tea and honey, but did you know that the honey doesn’t actually touch your vocal cords? If it did, you would choke! But warm fluids and honey help you make thin, watery secretions that relieve a scratchy throat.

5.) Muscle/Joint Aches/Fever:

  • Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen (AKA Tylenol and Advil): These two medicines both act to relieve pain and reduce a fever. Because they work differently, you can actually take them both. It often helps to alternate them, taking one or the other every three hours.

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