What are cold and cough medicines?
You don't usually need to treat a cold or the cough that it causes. You can't cure a cold, and antibiotics won't help you get better. But sometimes the symptoms can keep you awake or cause a lot of discomfort. In that case, cold and cough medicines can sometimes be helpful.
What are the different types of cold and cough medicines?
There are lots of different cold and cough medicines, and they do different things:
- Nasal decongestants - unclog a stuffy nose
- Cough suppressants - quiet a cough
- Expectorants - loosen mucus in your lungs so you can cough it up
- Antihistamines - stop runny noses and sneezing
- Pain relievers - ease fever, headaches, and minor aches and pains
What do I need to know about taking cold and cough medicines?
Before taking these medicines, read the labels and follow the instructions carefully. Many cold and cough medicines contain the same active ingredients. For example, some of them include pain relievers. If you are taking these medicines and are also taking a separate pain reliever, you could be getting a dangerous amount of the pain reliever.
Do not give cold or cough medicines to children under two, and don't give aspirin to children.
What else can I do to feel better for a cold or cough?
If you decide that you don't want to take cold and cough medicines, there are other ways to feel better:
- Drink lots of fluids
- Get plenty of rest
- Use a cool mist humidifier
- Use saline nose drops or sprays
- Use nasal suctioning with a bulb syringe, which can be very helpful in children under a year old
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Cold Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, What Can't Hurt (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Cough Medicine: Understanding Your OTC Options (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Decongestants: OTC Relief for Congestion (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
Treatments and Therapies
- 5 Tips: Natural Products for the Flu and Colds: What Does the Science Say? (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.