How to pick the right over the counter meds

Sick of being sick?
Brand X Pictures

The question
This year, flu season started late and allergy season came early. There are so many choices and combinations of cold, flu, sinus and allergy medicines at the drug store — it’s confusing. How do I know what to take?

Choosing an over-the-counter (nonprescription) remedy for what ails you generally depends on the cause and type of symptoms you experience. Cold and flu viruses generally cause illness that may be characterized by fever, headache, body aches, nasal congestion, sore throat and coughs. Symptoms usually follow an up-and-down course over seven to 10 days, and resolve completely after 14 to 21 days.

Seasonal allergies, also known as Hay Fever, are the body’s immune response to environmental irritants — usually tree and flower pollen in the spring. Red or itchy and watery eyes, nasal congestion, sneezing and a dry cough may plague allergy-sufferers.

Over-the-counter remedies are generally divided and marketed by the symptom(s) they treat. Many products combine ingredients, so you might see the following on a label: “Cold and Flu,” “Cold and Sinus,” “Cold and Cough,” “Sinus and Pain,” “Allergy Sinus,” etc. This is where confusion comes in.

It is important to be familiar with the individual ingredients in each product, so that you treat the symptoms of your illness or allergy appropriately. Take only the medication needed for your symptoms, and don’t accidentally overdose with a double dose if there is overlap between products. Knowing what medications are safe to take with underlying medical conditions is also important, so always ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking an over-the-counter remedy.

Fever/pain/headache:
These symptoms all result from inflammatory substances released by white blood cells that fight infection or respond to allergy-inducing pollen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) are the most common drugs for relieving these systemic symptoms. They work by blocking various chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.

Decongestants: Relief of nasal congestion from colds and allergies is accomplished by drugs that shrink the blood vessels and decrease swelling in irritated nasal passages. These come in tablet and nasal spray form. Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are the most common oral forms (the “D” in combination products). Oxymetazoline (Afrin) and neo-synephrine are the most common spray ingredients.

Antihistamines: Histamine is a chemical released by cells fighting allergies and infections, causing increased secretion of mucous in airways. Antihistamines help to block the production and release of histamine, thereby decreasing secretions. These come in oral tablets and liquids, nasal sprays and eye drops.  Common drugs include the old school “drowsy” variety (the “P.M.” in combo products) diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine, brompheniramine and doxylamine, and non-drowsy forms like loratadine, cetirizine and fexofenadine (Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra, respectively).
 
Expectorants and cough suppressants: An expectorant makes mucous secretions more watery and easier to expel when you cough or blow your nose. The most common expectorant in capsules and liquids is guaifenesin (Robitussin or Mucinex). Dextromethorphan (“DM” in combo products) is a synthetic codeine-like substance that decreases the sensitivity of the coughing reflex,  suppressing the urge to cough.

If you are sick or suffering from allergies and are unsure about what to take, ask your pharmacist for a recommendation or advice. Pharmacists are trained professionals and should be happy to help you decide.

— Mark Melrose, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician at Urgent Care Manhattan. E-mail him your questions at askdrmark@metro.us.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Arts

EXCLUSIVE: Backstage with Adam Jacobs at 'Aladdin' on…

Metro shadowed Adam Jacobs backstage at "Aladdin" on Broadway.

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

Movies

Review: Bickering family dramedy 'This is Where I…

A talented cast sits Shiva in the bickering family dramedy "This is Where I Leave You," although it's more sap than yuks.

NFL

J.J. Watt poses unique challenges to struggling Giants…

Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is the leader of a surprising Texans (2-0) team that has already matched last season’s win total.

NFL

Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.

NFL

Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.

NFL

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…