Coughing and Sneezing? Things to Consider Before Hitting the Medicine Aisle

Dec 8, 2014

Medical personnel say it's important to always follow directions when using cold medications, and only treat the symptoms you have.
Credit M. Kuhlman / Indiana News Service

Most adults will get one to three colds every year, and medical personnel say there are some things to keep in mind before heading to the drug store for treatment.

Most over-the-counter medications can relieve the symptoms of a cold, but not always without risk.

Joan Duwve, chief medical consultant with the Indiana State Department of Health, says it's important to always take medication as needed and directed, and only try to treat the symptoms you have.

"The risk of those all-in-one medications might be that you're taking a decongestant but you're not really stuffy," she points out. "In fact, you would like your nose to stop running, and so you may need something that's more like an antihistamine."

Duwve adds that acetaminophen overuse has potential for liver damage, decongestants can raise blood pressure and nighttime medications can cause drowsiness the next day.

Her advice is to use medications minimally, drink plenty of fluids and get extra rest.

She adds that warm liquids such as tea or chicken noodle soup are very effective in breaking up congestion.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colds are the most common illness children experience.

Duwve says parents should be vigilant about giving children medication for a cough, runny nose or sore throat.

"As a parent, you don't like to see your child looking or feeling uncomfortable and we like to feel like we're doing something to help," she says. "Kids, though, typically manage very well with cold symptoms and in fact medications can be harmful to children who are under the age of four."

She says always use children's medications as directed, and try saline sprays for nasal congestion, and honey for a cough.

Most colds run their course for about a week, and Duwve says parents should call their doctor if symptoms last more than 10 days or if a child has a fever higher than 100.4 degrees.