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Medicines for Cold & Cough

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Medicines for Cold & Cough
Cough syrup is a common remedy used during a cold. Photo Credit measuring cough medicine image by Larry Allen from Fotolia.com

A cold is a contagious virus that infects the mucous membrane of the nose. There is no cure for the common cold but there are medication options for relieving symptoms. The Mayo Clinic indicates that over-the-counter medications may offer some relief, but they do not shorten the duration of a cold, and may only treat certain symptoms of the cold. Cough is one of the many symptoms that accompany a cold, and coughing typically subsides once the cold has completed its course in the body.

Cold and Cough Combination Medications

There are combination medications available over-the-counter to treat cold and cough. According to the Mayo Clinic, the combination medicine may contain more than one ingredient such as decongestant or antihistamine, so it is important to find the best combination for the symptoms you are experiencing. Common symptoms treated with combination medicine include pain, fever, mucus and congestion. Medications such as loratadine or chlorpheniramine help the runny nose and itchiness associated with the cold. Phenylephrine is a decongestant useful for a stuffed up nose. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, and guaifenesin helps with mucus build up. There are several medications available over-the-counter, and consultation with a pharmacist may be helpful in choosing the best option.

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Antitussives are cough suppressants, and the purpose of these medications is to reduce coughing. Antitussives may be found over-the-counter or by prescription from a physician. The National Institutes of Health does not recommend taking antitussives if mucus is being coughed up. Dextromethorphan is one available cough suppressant that decreases cough by blocking the area of the brain that causes coughing. There are medication side effects to consider when using antitussives, as well as precautions if you are taking other medications that may be affected by the chemicals in cough suppressants. Read the labels and precautions before using this medication to treat cough. Prescription antitussives include codeine and hydromorphone. The prescriptions may only be obtained through consultation with a physician.


Analgesics are pain-relieving medications. Aches and pains are often present during the course of a cold. Acetaminophen is available to offer some relieve for the pain as an over-the-counter remedy. Acetaminophen is safe when taken as directed; however, overdose may lead to liver damage. The online source Family Doctor does not recommend certain analgesics for children due to the risk of sudden liver and brain damage from the chemical salicylate, which is present in some analgesics. The Mayo Clinic recommends minimal use of medications to treat a cold and further suggests fluids, salt gargle for the throat and chicken soup as primary treatment for cold and cough.

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author image Aubri John
Aubri John has been a contributing researcher and writer to online physical and mental health oriented journals since 2005. John publishes online health and fitness articles that coincide with her licensed clinical skills in addictions, psychology and medical care. She has a master's degree in clinical social work and a Ph.D. in health psychology.
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