I'm a Pharmacist, and This Is What I Take When I Have a Cold


Colds may be common, but they're still no fun. The "common cold," a blanket term used to describe a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, usually includes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, congestion, a runny nose, head and body aches, and even a low fever. And although these symptoms will clear up within a week or two for most people, they can be pretty miserable while they last—causing many of us to turn to over-the-counter (OTC) medications to ease our suffering.

"Whether a drug is prescribed or found over the counter, it's important to consult with a pharmacist before starting a new cold medicine. This includes herbal products, as they can also contribute to drug interactions," Michael Awadalla, PharmD and an executive vice president at Tabula Rasa HealthCare, told Best Life. "Pharmacists are uniquely educated and trained to look at a person's entire medication routine and address potential drug interactions."

With that in mind, read on to find out what pharmacists turn to when they come down with an all-too-common, yet all-too-unpleasant, cold.

READ THIS NEXT: I'm a Pharmacist, and These Are the OTC Medications I Won't Take.

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"There are several options available, and it can be hard to know which one might be the best," Bayo Curry-Winchell, MD, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician at Carbon Health and Saint Mary's Hospital, told Best Life. "If I'm experiencing a runny nose that just won't stop, I look for a medicine that contains an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine."

READ THIS NEXT: Doing This at Night Ruins Your Immune System, New Study Says.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
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One Medical polled over 100 doctors, nurses, and physician assistants in their network to find the top recommendations for treating cold symptoms and NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen, found in brand names like Motrin, Aleve, and Advil, were high on their list.

NSAIDs "are your best bet to alleviate pain and fever from a cold or flu virus," they wrote, although they also noted that, "taking NSAIDs can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke if you take them for weeks or more, so use the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time."

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"Don't you love that moment during a cold when your sinuses finally open up and you can breathe through your nose for the first time in days?" Amanda Angelotti, MD, wrote for One Medical. "The decongestant pseudoephedrine is usually behind that small miracle."

While pseudoephedrine is highly regulated and may increase your blood pressure or heart rate, it is a highly effective decongestant that can power through sinus pressure by reducing swelling in your blood vessels. Rogers recommends starting with 30 mg doses at first, as opposed to the higher doses marketed to last for 12 or 24 hours, since the drug is a stimulant and might disrupt your sleep.

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Nasal irrigators

For congestion and sinus pressure, the top treatment answer given by One Medical doctors was nasal irrigation, such as you'd get using a neti pot.

This "shower for your sinuses" helps remove allergens and mucus from your upper respiratory tract, reduces inflammation, and increases hydration, they wrote. "Our providers recommend nasal irrigation twice a day with warm saltwater until your symptoms improve."

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.