Dealing with Colds and Head Drainage–Cold Medicines 101, an unofficial blog guide

December 2, 2008 at 10:32 am 9 comments

Amen to this post by MIsty on colds and reducing Dr. visits and antibiotic use.

I’ll elaborate on this one as much as I know because I talk to person after person who does not treat themselves for a cold before it gets so bad they are miserable.  I say, “What are you taking?”  The vast majority of the time, they are taking nothing because “they don’t like how all that stuff makes them feel.”

Okay, lesser of two evils approach here, people.

People say to me all the time, “I guess I’m just going to have to see a doctor”.  Okay.  1.  The doctor has no magic wand.  You do have to take meds for colds if you go see him, too. 2.   If you take them correctly, cold meds won’t make you feel wierd.  3.  There are very good ones today that are cheap and effective.  4.  Most people have no clue what to buy or how to use them.  It’s a shame.  Get smart.  Times are tough.

So, let’s review over-the-counter meds, shall we?  The docs will be starting with these.  Yes, it helps.

Disclaimer: DON’T TAKE THESE WITHOUT CONSULTING YOUR DOCTOR.  I AM NOT A PHYSICIAN, THIS IS JUST A COMMON SENSE APPROACH to some over the counter cold meds.  Seek package inserts for warnings, cautions, and precautions.

So, “there is so much on the shelf” you “don’t know what to take”, so let’s learn.  You really need to know this stuff.

Keep on hand all through the winter:

  • plain nasal decongest*ants (dries up runny noses, relieves pressure)
  • antihist*imes (reduces how much of that runny stuff your body makes, relieves pressure, and symptoms of post nasal drip:  cough, sniffles, pressure)
  • Tylenol:  XS if you want, but plain is my preference, not to treat other symptoms besides pain
  • Naproxen:  12 pain, swelling, inflammation relief (really helps, and can be added to Tylenol doses)
  • Buy as needed: fresh cough medicine.  I don’t keep this on hand because liquids are easier to contaminate.  Buy fresh as needed and get a new bottle after colds if it sits for a while.

With these simple and inexpensive over the counter me*ds, you probably won’t get the same sinus infection or strep throat you got two years ago when you “started feeling this way”.  Just because you needed an antibiotic then to kick it doesn’t mean you’ll need one now IF you treat early with symptoms and every day for at least a week until symptoms are given time to get under control.  One day isn’t going to give you a good idea.

HOW THEY WORK (as best as I can understand and explain):

Decongestants: Sudefed (or the new phenylephr*ine hyrdrochl*oride variations).  Generic is fine.  It does NOT make you drowsy.  It MAY keep you up at night.  Take your last does by 2PM and you are fine.  Added as the letter “D” to most medicines (example”  Clarit*inD).  BE CAREFUL NOT TO DOUBLE UP.  There is a good explanation of what it does here. You should take it in conjunction with an antihistamine if you are having a lot of drainage.

Drop the “D” if you are having trouble winding down for sleep and instead use in the morning one plain decongestant.  I use generics in our house.  My box says “maximum strength nasal decongestant PE”.  It’s generally a small, red pi*ll.

Many cold meds, syrups, and cough syrups add this D in as well…I do not buy things mixed together. I treat one symptom at a time, then I can drop off what I don’t need when that symptom leaves.  This helps me feel better faster and eliminates meds we don’t need after the symptoms get better, but do what works for you.

As a note, I do not add in things for sleep aids (Benadry*l, for example, or Tyleno*lPM).  If you take meds to help you sleep at night, that’s up to you, but this routine usually lets me feel good enough that I don’t personally need help getting to sleep.

Antihistim*ines: This blocks your body’s natural response to allergens.  Even if you don’t have “allergies”, if you have a cold, you need to take one a day for about a week at least. I should say that twice I hear it so often–you don’t have to be “allergic” to anything to take a decongestant and deal with allergies…especially if you live in the midEast.  Antihisti*mes will help your body react less to environmentals (leaves, pollen, mold, etc.) and you’ll make less mucous to have to try to dry up to relieve pressure causing headaches and facial pain.  Edit:  as a reply to a comment made in the comment section, while these don’t specifically relief facial pain, reducing reactivity to allergens will cause your body to produce less mucous, hopefully causing less pressure on the sinus cavities from mucos.  (Hopefully I have rephrased this better on edit).

Even if you don’t have a “cold” yet, if you are sneezing a lot, have a drippy nose, are going to be around a lot of women dousing in perfume at a gathering, are going to be on a hayride, or are experiencing a lot of facial pressure (cheek or forehead), get started right now.

I use the generic clarit*in available now…it’s very economical at Wal*Mart and comes packaged in a bottle of 60 tables so that I don’t have to punch it out of layers of plastic.  I bought 2 for 1 last week.  Glory!  Keep it on hand.

Pain: For the headache resulting, you need to take the above two most likely, and also add Tylenol and possibly even a Naproxen (which deals with swelling and inflammation and will get you 12 hours of relief, but Tylenol deals with the actual headache pain faster, so I usually go on and take both together to get on top of it.  Take a little nap if you can and all this and you’ll feel better when you wake).

When to stop taking meds:

  • if, in the next 4-5 days, you get so dry your nose is bleeding when you blow, stop the decongestant.  Also, make sure you are running a clean humidifier if you have the heat on a lot.  Add saline spray to moistion nasal passages as many times a day as you want 4-5 is ideal.  Buy fresh each season.  It’s cheap, it works.
  • If you aren’t in pain, stop the pain reliefs for headache.
  • When you stop producing a lot of mucous, your throat clears, you aren’t coughing, stop the decongestant, the next day or two, try dropping off the antihistamine and see what happens (unless you will be in a holiday crowd or out shopping with a lot of intense smells.)  If you’ll be out for the day, take meds with you, just in case.

Still have symptoms?

Still having drainage and a lot of throat/face pain? You can add antihistamine sprays…I think these ARE prescription, but they do help a lot.

Need to talk a lot in the evening, or can’t breathe well enough to sleep but don’t want to take the Sudafed? Try Afrin nasal spray following package directions.  You’ll want to try to wean off this in about a week, but it will let you sleep, sing, give a talk and works very fast.  (Commenter pharmacists says 2-3 days, but I generally need it longer than that for colds that last a week).

Coughing?  Add a 12 hour cough syrup, plain (not adding antihistamines or decongestants in the mix if you are already taking them, as you should be for coughs related to post nasal drip [drainage, which most coughs are unless they are chronic]).  I like Dels*ym for a serious cough (lasts 12 hours), or plain Tuss*in (I like grape Robitussin) for a mild tickle.   There are probably other good over the counter ones…ask your pharmacist.

In conclusion, if you aren’t doing these things for 5 days, you will probably have to go to the doctor, you will get a fever from that stuff setting up in your head and face and cheeks because you have let them sit in there and start to grow nasty varmints. He will add all this, and a antib*iotic, and it will take you a lot longer to get better.  If you are a woman, you will be dehydrated some too, which doesn’t bode well for the female body.

So yes, treat early, be smart.

A note about herbal remedies: There are a lot of herbal remedies out there I have not yet tried, don’t know a lot about, and the science may or may not be strong.  Talk to people who have if you wish.  Try them if you will, realize they may also have interactions with other things you are taking if you try to mix and match.  Let you doctor know you are taking them.  Whatever you do, however you do it… be smart and treat that drainage.


Entry filed under: Everyday.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cindy  |  December 2, 2008 at 11:09 am

    good advice

  • 2. Annie  |  December 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

    How very informative! I have been sneezing & sniffling for over a week, just waiting for the inevitable to set in. I have always used the mentioned meds to treat symptoms once I am in the throes of a sinus/ear infection. Using them as a preventative makes sense. So, I am heading to Rite Aid as soon as I drop little man off at Pre-School and purchasing the necessary items to try and stop this little episode from progressing. Thanks for the info!

  • 3. Kimberly  |  December 2, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    i took a prescription expectorant/decongestant yesterday and today and now i am wanting to crawl out of my skin. whew. don’t like this feeling at all!!! i think i will still be wired at bedtime tonight!! last one of those i take!

  • 4. Stacey  |  December 2, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I like to treat things before they get out of hand, but other than antihistamines… I don’t take much of anything else. I prefer generic Zyrtec over Claritin for me, personally. I do suggest that if one doesn’t work well, to try another.

    As my first line of defense, I immediately start using a neti pot. It rinses out the sinus cavity/nasal area and prevents anything from growing there… therefore, no infection. Most people feel relief in a day or two.

    Yoga inversions help tremendously as well for the immune system. It helps to circulate lymph which is what carries away all of the yuck in your body. It circulates only by movement or gravity. An easy way to do so is to lay with your bottom against a wall and your legs up the wall. Very easy and very effective.

    If you do those two things, you likely will not need to add anything else. 🙂

    I also have some great luck with some herbal remedies. I love Sambucol for colds/flus. It is Black Elderberry extract and has been used for a very long time in Europe with great success. In clinical trials, it regularly reduced the time of colds and flus in half. I recently used Sinupret with my 3 year old for a runny nose and cough. She was starting to look really sick. I immediately started the Sinupret and her runny nose and cough lasted only 2 days. I also used a vaporizer with peppermint oil in it. I am very thankful for those formulations. I did not use a single dose of anything else for her runny nose/cough and it never got any worse.

    Sorry for the novel, just wanted to give a different perspective since there are lots of side effects to taking any medicine. Like Kim said, expectorants and decongestants can make your heart rate rise, increase your blood pressure and cause trouble sleeping. Some were even originally marketed for weight loss! Eeek!

  • 5. pharmerdon  |  December 2, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Maggie, you did a great job explaining the basics of cough and cold treatments especially not having a medical background. I would like, if I may, to add a few clarifications and suggestions.
    Nasal decongestants do not dry up runny noses. They do however work very well in relieving sinus pressure. They can also be safely combined with either Tylenol or Aleve (naproxen) you mention above for sinus pain or headache.
    Antihistamines do not relieve pressure, they treat the runny nose and allergy symptoms associated with a cold. When combined with a decongestant, they are very effective at treating all of your sinus symptoms. Also, the older antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) will be more effective for runny nose and post nasal drip than Claritin but this comes with more potential for drowsiness.
    Afrin and other nasal decongestant sprays should be stopped at 2 to 3 days (sooner than 1 week above) to prevent rebound congestion when you stop taking it.
    I do like your suggestion about using a saline nasal spray. This can be used as frequently and for as long as you have symptoms. You could take it one step further and use a nasal irrigation system. They are available at the pharmacy and are very inexpensive. I explain this on my website.
    I love how you recommend stocking each medication separately and using only the ones you need as symptoms arise. I have practiced this approach for years with my patients.
    Over the counter cough medications are generally not considered very effective. The most recent research shows the available products are no more effective than doing nothing. In my opinion (not supported by research) most cough due to a cold is caused by post nasal drip. If you treat the drip you fix the cough.
    Chest congestion was left out of the discussion. You can treat this with either the plain Tussin mentioned above or Mucinex (my pick). Don’t forget to drink your 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to ensure the Mucinex will work.
    Finally, keep in mind a cold is caused by a virus (there are many different strains out there all the time). There is no medication, herb or supplement which will prevent a cold, stop the progression or shorten the duration. The medications listed here are just symptom management to help you feel better as you body fights off the offending virus. In general a cold will only cause a low grade fever. If you have a high fever you may need a doctor. Also, if you have a cold an antibiotic will not do any good.
    During the cold season, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, wash hands frequently and take a good multivitamin. This will keep your immune system strong which is your best defense against a cold.
    Overall you have crammed a lot of valuable information in a small space. Good job.

    Don Levasseur PharmD

  • 6. Maggie  |  December 2, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Great comments, folks. I added a few notes as a result! I hope you all have some confidence to get started on over the counter remedies.

    My reasoning on sinus pressure is that decreasing secretions should help relieve sinus pressure. Why this is argued, I am not sure. But, worth my further study on the subject. There are probably better sites than mine to discuss these matters, but I hope you have gained some confidence to have some arsenal against head pain associated with the common cold and allergy related symptoms in particular.

    As to herbal remedies, many herbal remedies seem to work for some people. Good notes. I just ask readers to remember that anything we put into our bodies to change it’s state is a drug,, as such, they may have side effects we are of which we are unaware. Keep in mind that many medicinal drugs are plant derivatives as well, though we do not call them “herbal remedies”. Simply remember to always let your doctor know you are taking anything regularly that may affect your care, even if you think the vitamin or herbal remedy is unrelated to your symptoms at hand.

  • 7. Vaporizers  |  June 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    WOW, great info on how to deal with the sick season and more! The one thing I do is turn to my herbal vaporizer and use lavendar to relax and thyme for the immune system or help with sore throat.

    Great advice 🙂 I hate hospitals!

  • 8. Sam  |  September 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Good info.
    I use a nasal irrigation syringe (looks like a big hypodermic) to flush extra mucous out. It works like a nettie pot, but under a bit of pressure.My allergist said 1 c. of water, 1/4 t. Salt, pinch of baking soda. I think this is what they use in nettie pots, as well.

  • 9. Maggie  |  March 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Only NEVER use tap water. Just to reiterate…again! 🙂

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