Common Cold Treatment

By Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Table of Contents


In the past few years, there has been an increase in the use of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to treat the common cold. However, there is some confusion over which OTC drugs are effective against the common cold.

Decongestants, which are commonly used to relieve congestion, are one type of OTC drug that is often thought to be effective against the common cold. However, decongestants are not effective against the virus, and they may even increase the risk of infection.

Over-the-counter medications can be a big help in treating the common cold. Many of these medications are available without a doctor’s prescription.

Over-the-counter Cold Medicine

The common cold is a viral infection. It is characterized by the development of mild fever, runny nose, headache, muscle aches, and sore throat. The symptoms typically last for 3 to 5 days and may be accompanied by fatigue and malaise.

There are a lot of over-the-counter cold medicines on the market, but which ones are the most effective

There are four basic types of over-the-counter cold medicines: painkillers, decongestants, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatories. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to treating the common cold.

Pain Killers

These medicines include paracetamol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen

These are to reduce fever, sore throat, and headache-like symptoms. There is a risk of getting gastritis-like symptoms and rebound headaches with multiple uses.

So the painkillers must be used cautiously only if needed.


These are available in oral, syrup, and spray form and work by constricting blood vessels in your nasal passages, causing them to get wider and causing mucus secretion to be released.

Decongestants can also slightly reduce swelling in your nasal passages.

The drug helps to relieve congestion by temporarily plugging up small passages in your nose so that less air gets through into your lungs when you breathe out (which makes breathing easier).

This can reduce sneezing and cough in some people who have colds or allergies by keeping them from getting worse with time!

Oral forms of decongestants

  • pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • phenylephrine (Sudafed PE)
Nasal sprays

  • Oxymetazoline (Afrin)
  • Phenylephrine (Sinex)
  • Naphazoline (Privine)

The risk of taking oral forms of decongestants is that they can raise your blood pressure, and it is not prescribed for individuals with hypertension.

The overuse of nasal sprays can cause rebound congestion and mucosal polyps. If nasal sprays are used for more than three consecutive days, it can cause rebound congestion of the nose. People tend to reuse nasal sprays for their rebound congestion.

This in turn can lead to a worsening of the congestion.

Antihistamines for Common Colds

The main purpose of using antihistamines is to treat allergic reactions.

They work by blocking histamine, which is a chemical in the body that causes itching, watery eyes, and sneezing.

However, some people may experience side effects from their use.

Common cold antihistamines include:

  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Claritin (loratadine)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  • Allegra (fexofenadine).

Antihistamines are generally safe to use, but there is a risk of sedation and nasal congestion.

Cough Suppressants

In common cold, the cough is characterized by the production of thick, expectorated mucus that results in the coughing up of this mucus. Coughing can be caused by a number of different conditions, including allergies, colds, asthma, bronchitis, and sinusitis.

Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant medication available over-the-counter (OTC) in forms like tablets and syrup for children.

It works by blocking the brain’s cough reflex, which means it can be used to treat both dry coughs as well as more serious acute episodes of cough.

It has been known to cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and stomach discomfort. It may cause respiratory depression if used during surgery or if you have breathing problems.


Coughs are the body’s way of clearing out things that have been irritating your throat. Coughs can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or a combination of both.

Guaifenesin, also known as Robitussin, Mucinex, and Robafen, is an expectorant cough medicine.

It contains guaifenesin and phenylephrine, which help to thin the mucus in your lungs so that it can be coughed up more easily.

This is expectorant cough medicine, which means it helps loosen up mucus in the air passages, which makes it easier for you to cough. It also decreases swelling and inflammation of the throat.

Guaifenesin comes in strengths of 300 mg and 600 mg.

Mucinex contains guaifenesin 300 mg, dextromethorphan hydrobromide 12.5 mg, and phenylephrine HCl 10 mg.

Guaifenesin is available from pharmacies around the world and is often used to treat colds and allergies as well as to relieve coughing.

Treating the Running Nose

Cetirizine and loratadine are antihistamines that help relieve allergy symptoms, such as watery eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing.

Cetirizine is used to treat hay fever and other allergies. The cold symptoms too can treat with cetrizine.

Cetirizine and loratadine are non-drowsy antihistamines that provide relief from these symptoms.

It’s important to know how long cetirizine lasts in your system so you can be sure it’s not interfering with any other medicine you might be taking.

Treating a Stuffed Nose

When the nasal passages get blocked due to the cold, it is difficult for air to move through them. This causes the person to breathe through their mouth and make a “snoring” noise during sleep.

Home remedies such as saline solutions or hot tea can clear stuffy noses.

However, if these treatments do not work, the below drugs can help.

  • Phenylephrine (Sinex)
  • Oxymetazoline (Afrin)
  • Naphazoline (Privine) medications can work on stuffed noses.

Muscle pain

Muscle aches and body aches occur as a result of releasing pyrogen materials into the body.

These pains can be relieved by hot compression or over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol (acetaminophen) and NSAIDs(Ibuprofen, diclofenac).

Treating Sneezing

Anti-histamines like loratadine or cetirizine will help to relieve symptoms of sneezing.

Sneezing helps to get rid of viruses as well as spread the disease. Thus, use a tissue or sneeze into your elbow.

Treating Fever

Fever is not a frequent symptom of the common cold. But if present, acetaminophen or an NSAID (Ibuprofen or naproxen) may help.

Treating a Sore Throat

Follow these tips to heal a sore throat.

  • Drink plenty of hot water.
  • Gargle with warm salt water, or use a neti pot to rinse your nasal passages.
  • Eat raw fruits, veggies, and nuts that are easy to chew, like apples or celery sticks. These foods contain vitamin C and other nutrients that can help reduce your sore throat symptoms.
  • To ease the pain and inflammation associated with a sore throat, try taking pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Bacterial tonsillitis is another cause of sore throat which can cause severe complications. So, if you’ve had a sore throat for several days, you should see a doctor.

Nasal discharge can fall onto your throat frequently in the common cold, which is called post-nasal drip and can be reduced by decongestants like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), cetirizine, or loratadine.

Treating Cough

Treating a cough caused by the common cold is simple.

  • Rest and good night’s sleep

If you’re having trouble sleeping, take an over-the-counter cough suppressant if needed.

Cough suppressants

  • Dextromethorphan ( Delsym, Vicks Dayquil)

Cough expectorants

  • Guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robafen)

Antibiotics for the Common Cold

Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections including pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, and otitis media.

There is no place for antibiotics in the common cold as it is a viral infection.

Antibiotics are used to reduce bacteria.

When to Visit the Doctor

If you do feel like your symptoms are getting worse, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.

There are usually two types of respiratory infections: viral and bacterial. Viral infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications, but bacterial infections require prescription medication.

If the symptoms of the cold don’t subside within 10 days, it can lead to serious complications like pneumonia or meningitis!

The following symptoms may cause you to seek medical advice.

  • Neck stiffness, high fever, photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Localized chest pain that increased with breathing
  • Ear pain
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing (asthma or a cardiac event)

TeleHealthDoc articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Dr. Pallavi Sharma is one of Melbourne’s best, well respected cosmetic doctors and aims to provide longstanding anti-aging benefits for her clients. With over 11 years experience in Performing cosmetic procedures, Dr. Sharma has lectured medical professionals regarding cosmetic treatments and is heavily involved in providing up to date cosmetic treatments to her clients and friends.
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