Feel Like You’re Coming Down With a Cold or the Flu? Hold Off on Buying Out the Drugstore

The January 2018 issue of Consumer Reports hit the stands last week, and in the cover story, “How to Survive the Cold and Flu Season,” the magazine’s editors issue a stern warning to consumers for this year’s cold and flu season: Instead of overloading on over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu meds at the first sign of a sniffle, read the labels first.

Why? Because not paying attention to the ingredients can bring more trouble than battling a cold or the flu.

Lisa Gill, deputy content editor of Consumer Reports, told CBS This Morning that many OTC remedies contain the same ingredient—acetaminophen, or as it’s more commonly known, Tylenol—and combining remedies creates an overload that, according to the National Institutes of Health, sent nearly 60,000 people to emergency rooms last year for acetaminophen-related liver toxicity.

Which one to choose? Hint: Not all of them; read the labels first!

In other words, don’t overdo it. Also, check with a licensed pharmacist if you find the labels confusing to make sure you’re not double-dosing.

The Consumer Reports editors also issued warnings about nasal treatments. Nasal sprays and solutions that contain Oxymetazoline can be effective, but can backfire after three days of use. You can lose your sense of taste and smell and develop even more congestion if used more than three days. Also, allergy medications containing antihistamines such as Diphenhydramine, Cetirizine, and Fexofenadine work well for seasonal allergies but not for colds.

Another popular OTC to take for a cold is Vitamin C, but, just like other remedies, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Continuous doses of Vitamin C can lead to increased kidney stones and can interact with certain drugs.

Let’s face it—a cold is going to run its course, no matter how much you throw at it, however, Gill says, there are a few home remedies backed by science that can help make you feel a little better:

  • Chicken soup—thins mucus, anti-inflammatory, warm liquid eases congestion
  • Salt Water—gargling or nasal irrigation with a Neti pot or spray) can ease pain and reduce swelling

So, if you feel that tickle in your throat or have the beginnings of a sniffle, remember: Less is more.

If your cold or cough lingers on, you may want to make an appointment with a doctor; you can check the license first by going online to the Medical Board of California’s website.

Bonus: Test your cold and flu IQ

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