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The Best Over-the-Counter Cold Medicines

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The Best Over-the-Counter Cold Medicines
The Best Over-the-Counter Cold Medicines Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

The common cold can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Symptoms of a cold are nasal drip (runny nose), sneezing, aching muscles, coughs, scratchy or itchy sore throat, sinus congestion, fatigue, low grade fever and watery eyes. While there is no one cure for the common cold, there are plenty of options for treating the symptoms of a cold. Many doctors will recommend plenty of rest, fluids and light food, like chicken soup or orange juice. But if the symptoms persist, some of the best over-the-counter cold medications available without a doctor's prescription at any local pharmacy, grocery or drug store.


NyQuil is a cold medication that contains active ingredients, such as acetaminophen, dextromethorphan and pseudoephedrine, that will help treat the symptoms of a cold. It also contains ingredients to help you rest and sleep. Many online review sites, such as Viewerpoints.com, and consumers reports sites, such as Eopinions.com, gave Nyquil products high ratings or 100 percent approval rating as one of the best OTC for treating cold symptoms. If you can't stand the taste of cough syrup, it is also available in capsule form. Only take the recommended dose as described on the label. NyQuil side effects include headaches, dizziness and nausea.

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Afrin is an over-the-counter cold medication that has been shown to work best for unblocking congested sinuses and nasal passages. According to a clinical study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, 1993, by researcher, BH Micheal, the use of oxymetazoline hydrochloride (Afrin) improved the symptoms of nasal congestion effectively in adults. Several online consumer product review sites, like Epinion.com, have found Afrin to be highly effective in treating sinus congestion and have given favorable reports on the use of drug. The active ingredient oxymetazoline hydrochloride which can unblock nasal passages and clear up the sinuses. Afrin's side effects include potential for developing dependency and the increase risk of damaging sinus tissue.


One common symptom of a cold is cough. Coughing is the body's natural reflex action to help dislodge and dispel the mucus and phlegm from the lungs. Mucinex is an over-the-counter drug that will help to give some relief from coughs and is considered one of the best cold medication for coughs. Mucinex contains the active ingredient Guaifenesin which acts as an expectorant to loosen and expel the mucus plugs in the lungs. A study published in the Journal of American Board of Family Practise, March, 1993, by researcher Croughan-Minihane MS, concluded that guaifenesin was effective in relieving cough symptoms. Viewpoints.com, an online consumer product review site, rated Mucinex to be very effective in giving relief to sinus congestion and coughs--52 reviewers gave a 4.04 stars out of a possible 5 star rating scale for the product.

Vicks Chloraseptic

A cold can present with many unpleasant symptoms, such as, an irritated sore throat. Over-the-counter cold medications are formulated to help alleviate and give relief to sore throats. Vick's chloraseptic sore throat spray is the best product available on the market to address this problem. Epinion.com, an online product consumer review site, rated this product 4.5.out of 5 stars for quick relief, effectiveness and ease of use. One advantage this cold product has over other sore throat drugs, like lozenges and liquid mouth rinses or gargles, is the use of an aerosol delivery system which permits the user to specifically target the sore throat region. The product's active ingredients are glycerin and phenol (an analgesic) to help temporarily numb the affected area of the throat.

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author image Dr. Susan Jewell
Health expert and network TV/radio/Internet host, Dr. Susan Jewell has appeared on CBS, Fox News, ABC and NBC. She is a health blogger and producer, and currently produces several webisode/TV series on "how-tos on health and living green." Dr. Jewell trained in clinical research medicine in cancer and AIDS/HIV at NIH and UCLA.
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