8 best over-the-counter flu medicines of 2021

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Form: There are several different forms of over-the-counter medications, including gel capsules, tablets, syrups, and powders that are mixed with liquid to relieve cough or pain.

But according to Jake Deutsch, MD, founder and clinical director Cure Urgent Care. what you choose depends on your personal preferences. “Some people find it easier to mix with warm water, others like to swallow gel tablets,” she says. “The key is to maintain consistency in what you’re taking, making sure the temperature drops.”

Abisola Olulade. MD, a San Diego-based family doctor, agrees: “There is no evidence that one is significantly more effective than the other, but some may be better depending on the situation,” she says. “Soft gels are like capsules and consist of a gelatin-based shell that surrounds the liquid. They tend to irritate the stomach lining less.” 

Ingredients to treat specific symptoms: If you’re looking for an over-the-counter flu drug, keep in mind that different options may target different symptoms. The following are some of the most common flu symptoms, as well as the best over-the-counter medications for each.

  • Pain relief: If you experience pain or body aches due to the flu, you can take two main categories of pain medications. First category – NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Examples of such medications are ibuprofen (Motrin) naproxen (ALEV) and aspirin. “They inhibit the body’s production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like chemicals that cause pain, inflammation, and fever,” says Dr. Olulaid. Other class – acetaminophen (Tylenol). “We’re not quite sure how Tylenol works, but it really helps reduce fever and inflammation. There is a theory that it works by reducing the formation of prostaglandins in the brain, but the fact that we do not fully understand how it works may surprise many people,” he adds. 
  • Stuffy nose: If you have a runny or stuffy nose, choosing an over-the-counter decongestant may help. According to Dr. Olulad, ” When you get sick, the blood vessels lining your nose swell (due to inflammation), making it difficult to breathe. Decongestants work by contracting these blood vessels, allowing you to breathe better.” Decongestants come in the form of tablets and nasal sprays. The tablets you can choose are pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) e phenylephrine (Sudafed PE). “Pseudoephedrine, which is stored behind the pharmacy counter, is the most effective/powerful of the two,” says Dr. Olulaid.
  • Cold: You may want to try an antihistamine if your nose does not stop flowing, but you can still breathe quite easily through the nasal passages. According to Dr. Olulad, “histamine is released when the body detects something foreign, such as an infection or an allergen.” These medicines block this chemical to reduce inflammation.
  • Cough: First of all, it is your cough is productive or unproductive? Productive means you cough something when you cough, while unproductive means your cough is dry. “Productive coughing can be controlled with guaifenesin, which works by relieving chest congestion, making coughing easier. Examples of this are Robitussin and Mucinex, ” says Dr. Oloulad. If you have a dry cough (which is more common in the flu), “dextromethorphan, which acts as a cough suppressant by acting on signals in the brain that trigger the cough reflex, may work better,” says Dr. Olulaid. However, if you are taking over-the-counter cough medicines and don’t notice any difference in your symptoms, you are not alone. “It’s interesting to note that many studies have shown that over-the-counter cough medicines can’t suppress cough more than a placebo (take nothing at all), and some have shown that honey can work just as well,” Dr. Olulaid notes. Some comprehensive over-the-counter cough remedies use honey as the main ingredient to help suppress chronic cough because of the flu.

Dream vs. dream: Some people may feel the effects of medicines that make them drowsy more than others. “If someone has sensitivity to sleeping pills, they should be avoided; always consult your doctor,” says Dr. Deutsch. 

Dr. Olulaid agrees. “Some people feel sedated when they take other types of cold medications, such as decongestants, although they are not inherently sedative and often cause insomnia,” she says. “It’s always best to take time to see how you react before you get behind the wheel or drive heavy machinery.”

Possible drug interactions: Whenever you take any medications, including over-the-counter one, it’s best to check briefly with your pharmacist to make sure you can mix all the medications you plan to take. If you are taking prescription medications and decide to buy over-the-counter flu medications, you should definitely consult your pharmacist or doctor.

“Combining cold medications is very difficult, as you can eventually take too much of the same ingredient,” says Dr. ABI. “Some cold medications can also interact with many different prescription medications, and in some cases can be life-threatening, for example, interaction between pseudoephedrine and a class of medications called MAOIs (inhibitors monoamine antioxidant). This can cause a severe increase in blood pressure,” she says. 

Just because a medicine is sold over the counter doesn’t mean you can decide how to take it. You should always read the labels. “Tylenol can cause a possible drug interaction if you don’t follow the proper instructions,” says Dr. Deutsch. “I’ve seen people who took cold and flu medications with Tylenol and painkillers, so they had toxic levels of Tylenol in [their bodies]. Other antihistamines can cause excessive sedation that should be avoided, ” he adds.

Dr. Olulaid warns that you may be aware of any sleeping pills you are taking with a prescription when you are also considering taking flu medicines. “Any medication used for insomnia or also sedative could interact with antihistamines such as Benadryl due to the additive effects. Some sedative medications, such as Xanax, may also have sedative effects and may interact with sedative antihistamines for the same reason.” 

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