Palliatives for the common cold?
February 20, 2007 6:17 PM   Subscribe

An elementary question: I've got a cold. What remed(ies) should I take to feel better?

I came down with a hideously nasty cold today. I am not usually one to take over-the-counter remedies other than plain aspirin, but this thing has me totally non-functional and I'm going to have to make an exception. The thing is, I get sick like this so infrequently that I don't have any idea what to buy.

So, what brands/products/combinations of active ingredients work best to ameliorate cold symptoms, in your experience? I.e., what should I go down and buy at the drugstore?

Suggestions of other things I can do to feel better are also welcome.
posted by killdevil to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Drink lots of fluids, get lots of sleep, distract yourself with books/music/movies. Blow your nose in tissues. Ask your drugstore for a decongestant with pseudoephedrine. You'll need to ask the pharmacy for this due to methamphetamine laws. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:24 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've found that Dayquil (or its generic equivalent) is pretty good. Just be careful not to mix cold medication and alcohol, they don't mix well.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:25 PM on February 20, 2007

The proper medication doesn't readily exist anymore. See my recent question and while I haven't had to try it yet, one of the pills + whiskey combinations ought to help you. By help, I mean you'll fall asleep for a long time and wake up feeling much better.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:26 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It depends what your symptoms are. IANAD but I've gotten pretty good at taking care of my colds. It's better to buy each medicine individually instead of in a DayQuil type of product, so you don't need to take more medicine than you actually NEED.

1. LOTS of fluids (try to stick with water & decaf teas when possible). Seriously, it really does help.

2. If you are decongested in your nasal passages, get pseudoephedrine. This is the drug you have to ask for from behind the counter, though it is not prescription. The "new" Sudafed replacement doesn't work for me, so it's just easier to start with the real stuff.

3. If you have any sort of chest congestion or cough, take guaifenesin (brand names include Mucinex). You absolutely need to drink a lot of water when you are taking guafenesin because it loosens up mucus and dehydrates you in the process.

4. For a cough, I would suggest dextromethorphan (dm) brand name includes Delsym. It will help stop the tickling urge to cough.

5. For any aches and pains, good old acetominophen or ibuprofen will do the trick.

6. If you need something to help you sleep, pop a benadryl. It's the active sleep ingredient in Tylenol PM and most other nighttime pain or cold medicines, so it's easier to just buy it on its own.

7. For a sore throat, acetominophen or ibuprofen will help, but so will a salt water garge. Just mix 2 tablespoons of coarse salt in some warm water and gargle a few times a day. I also find a spoonful of honey soothing.

Did I miss any symptoms? I hope not.
posted by tastybrains at 6:32 PM on February 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

Get your hair dryer out, set it on the low setting, and breathe warm air for 5 to 8 minutes, or until your nasal and sinus membranes are warmed above 105° F. Rhino virus do not survive above 104° F, and by warming and drying your nasal membranes and sinues, you are also efficiently inhibiting the histamine reaction that may be stuffing you up. You'll also vastly curtail post nasal drip, and improve your chance for restful sleep.

No side effects, can be repeated as often as needed (but you'll probably not need to do it more than 2 or 3 times in the first day), and costs pennies, without requiring a shopping trip. Some people use a steam kettle to inhale vapors, but the chances of burning yourself are much greater. You can use a little lotion on your nose and lips to prevent your nose from becoming sore.

Recommended by some doctors.
posted by paulsc at 6:32 PM on February 20, 2007 [10 favorites]

um, gargle not garge. :-)

btw feel better.
posted by tastybrains at 6:33 PM on February 20, 2007

I've got a cold, too. Count me in as anti-drug, but whenever I get a cold I head straight for the Theraflu. They have a variety of options depending on symptoms, but I usually go for cold and sore throat. I take it at bedtime and it helps to soothe the symptoms that traditionally make it hard to sleep, so I get good rest, too.

Feel better!
posted by hollisimo at 6:39 PM on February 20, 2007

I find that chicken ramen (Maruchan brand, but perhaps others) does wonders for clearing up my nose long enough to give me some respite. Drink plenty of water with it -- all that salt has to dehydrate you like hell -- but it's like traditional chicken soup on crack.
posted by olinerd at 6:41 PM on February 20, 2007

Food, food, food and more food. Then sleep. Eat like 5000 calories. It works wonders.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:43 PM on February 20, 2007

I've had a normal dose of pseudoephedrine-containing medication keep me awake for over 24 hours straight. This is torture when you're sick and all you want to do is go to bed. If you don't know how it'll affect you, and you're really feeling miserable, I would caution you against experimenting with it. I had a minor sinus infection when I took the freaking DayQuil and 26 hours later I was at the hospital begging for a. antibiotics and b. some goddamn sleep.

I am definitely smaller than average and come from a family history of weird issues with stimulants, but it's something to keep in mind. Pseudoephedrine is heavy-duty stuff.

On a less doleful nore, if you can get it, I really like Trader Joe's Hot & Sour Soup when I'm sick. It comes in a clear glass jar. It's high in sodium, but so is any soup, and soup is so good when you feel sick. Unlike ramen, it actually has some stuff in it (tofu, mushrooms) so you get some nutrients. I mean, if you have good Thai takeout near you that's probably better, but I really don't.
posted by crinklebat at 6:55 PM on February 20, 2007

After water, I favor Powerade over Gatorade. Just enough electrolytes to replace what you're losing in, well, mucus. A regular salt-water gargle to clear anything out of the back of your throat. Thai food to get your sinuses moving. Or chicken soup. Combine them both and ask for thom yum (sp?) soup. Take a shower, then go to bed with a big, fluffy towel wrapped around your pillow. Oh, yeah, suck on those lozenges with zinc in them, seems to really cut down on the duration of a cold. Terrible taste in your mouth, but it's worth it.
posted by adipocere at 7:04 PM on February 20, 2007

No joke with the chicken soup remedy.
posted by jourman2 at 7:06 PM on February 20, 2007

When I have a nasty cold, I take:

(1) Pseudoephedrine. Phenylephrine is shit. Go to the counter, put your name in the book of life, and get yourself a package of the good stuff.

(2) Diphenhydramine, aka Benadryl. This stuff does anti-allergy stuff and can limit nausea, but that's not important right now. What's important is that diphenhydramine can knock you right the fuck out, and every minute you're sleeping is a minute that you don't have to put up with the cold. Even if it doesn't knock you out, it at least helps to counteract the boingboing from the pseudoephedrine.

Other less pharmacological good things:

Chicken soup.
Hot tea, especially if your throat resembles a Niagara of snot.
Gallons of fluids.
Piles of guilty-pleasure movies to watch while mildly dopey.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:12 PM on February 20, 2007

When he felt a cold coming on, I knew a guy who would chop a head of garlic, saute it in butter (or better yet, schmaltz), pile it on a piece of french bread, and eat it. He swore it helped. All I know is, it was delicious.

I'm a believer in that Airborne stuff, personally. I think it's helped me fend off a few colds. And my mom recommended it, so it's almost like having her here to take care of me.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:15 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Vitamin C!!!! Airborne and/or Emergen-C will do it.
posted by k8t at 7:25 PM on February 20, 2007

Run up to the drug store and grab some Zycam immediately! If it is a cold this will vastly improve your symptoms and help you get over the crud faster. While you are there pick up some "Ayr" it will keep your sinuses in good shape. I tell you this as some one that stays away from over the counter shit. The Zycam works better than anything I have come across and will help you if you start it soon enough. The Ayr will probably help you avoid a sinus infection. The Zycam also has some clinical studies to back up its claims. Good luck!
posted by bkeene12 at 7:39 PM on February 20, 2007

My mother's St-Vincentian (is that it? whatever, she's originally from the island of St-Vincent) has, in the past, recommended something you might try, if you're brave.

As I recall, it involves mashing up 3 cups (yes, cups) of whole garlic, with a bit of water to make a proper mush. Throw that in a pan on the stove and reduce to approx. 1 cup. Mix in 1 cup molasses. Take the resulting syrup as often as you want (I don't think you can OD on garlic...).

That aside, DayQuil and the like should work. If your lungs are all gunky, something with guaifenesin should take care of it. Drink plenty of fluids if you're taking guaifenesin though, it helps it work better.
posted by CKmtl at 7:42 PM on February 20, 2007

Saline nose spray (I think Ayr is a brand altho I use generic and it seems to be fine.)

It unclogs you and makes your nose inhospitable to the cold germies.

Oh, and stay away from sugar and simple carbs while you are sick-they keep your immune system down.
posted by konolia at 7:43 PM on February 20, 2007

One thing that SEEMS to work for me (and is also recommended by various sites on the Internet) is to flood yourself with vitamin C. I buy vitamin C tablets, drink unfiltered orange juice, eat fruit, and just totally max out. You can't really overdose on Vitamin C (it's one of the least toxic substances out there) unless you ate crates of it on its own, and supposedly it can help a lot.

I tend to find it only helps when I feel the first signs of a cold and I do it.. if the cold is already in full flow, it doesn't seem to work so well.
posted by wackybrit at 8:09 PM on February 20, 2007

Hot Toddy's Ingredients:
* 1 tblsp Honey
* 3/4 glass Tea
* 2 shots Brandy
* 1 slice Lemon
Mixing instructions: Brew tea and fill tall glass 3/4 full. Mix in honey. Mix in Brandy shots. Add lemon slice and enjoy. I mix 5 drops of oregano oil in the honey because it is anti viral.
posted by hortense at 8:12 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Alka-Seltzer Plus. It's a plop-plop fizz tablet thing just like regular Alka-Seltzer, but has cold medicine in it. I've always had good results with it.
posted by ALongDecember at 8:21 PM on February 20, 2007

Science says vitamin C is not effective againts cold. It's a myth.

When your body is fighting an infection, it burns through a lot of water and energy. Give it what it needs to stay ahead in the battle and you will feel better. Drink lots of water, sleep a lot and feed yourself well. When I have a cold, I carry a nalgene bottle around, and I drink 4 or 5 liters of water a day.

Then Neo Citran.
posted by gmarceau at 8:47 PM on February 20, 2007

Doing nothing has worked for me 100% of the time.

AMOL (german) works great for making you feel good though. It's basically an herbal drink additive that's mostly alcohol, it can be found at Europen import stores (such as deningers)
posted by Sonic_Molson at 8:55 PM on February 20, 2007

Best answer: Okay, so the Washington Post just put together this beautiful chart a few weeks ago about which OTC meds actually work for various cold symptoms according to doctors and pharmacologists in the D.C. area (which was called "Do they work? What the experts say). When I saw this post, I had intended to give you the link to the site, but apparently they have taken it offline. I printed the chart, though, so I'll spare you the explanations and just say which work and which don't...and these are the brand names, btw. This should help you sift through all the responses you have above.

Proven Effective:
Afrin, Neo-Synephrine, Vicks Sinex, Advil, Aspirin, Tylenol, Benadryl, Clistin, Tavist, Chlor-Trimeton, Dimetane, Andehist, Bromfed, Dimetapp Cold and Allergy Elixir, Lodrane, Dimetapp, Drixoral, PediaRelief, Sudafed (containing pseudoephrine and not phenylephrine)

Mucinex (and other meds containing guaifenesin), Saline nasal sprays

Dayquil, Nyquil, Theraflu (the docs didn't like the combination medicines), Robitussin DM, Delsym, Vicks 44E, Buckley's, Echinacea, Vitamin C, Antiviral tissues, Zinc lozenges like Cold-Eze and Homeopathic Zinc solutions like Zicam.
posted by liberalintellect at 9:03 PM on February 20, 2007 [10 favorites]

As everyone has said, drink fluids continually. Water, maybe with flavored vitamin C powder (like Emergen-C) -- adding a bit of flavor to the water makes it easier for me to keep drinking it even when I'm not thirsty. Even if the vitamin C doesn't help, it's a kind of "I'm sick" ritual for me; ymmv. Hot water, plus decaf tea, or plus lemon juice and honey, is also great if the back of your throat is feeling raw. My last cold, I was sipping water pretty much all the time I was awake, and I felt like it helped.
A bit of something salty can help with the fluid intake too - salty broth, eg. Paradoxical, but what the hell.

Lots of rest. (If you live alone, set yourself up with a big glass of water and some little salty snack (saltines?) next to the couch. Drink water. Curl up and nap. Get up to pee. Go refill water glass, go back and lie down. Eat saltines as they seem appealing. Go back to sleep.)

You've gotten a thorough rundown of the medicines in the above replies but I will add this: Be smart about how you combine medicines.

DON'T take a "combination" medicine (one that has several active ingredients, to treat several symptoms at once) and then accidentally add a bigger dose of one of the medicines it already contains. It's possible to overdose on acetaminophen this way, for example. Just be aware of the recommended dose of whatever you're taking. For routine head cold, I would start with pseudoephedrine and nothing else for the day. Pick up a nighttime combo med, in case you really, really can't sleep.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:14 PM on February 20, 2007

Your chart's inconsistent. Dayquil/Nyquil (ineffective) contain Tylenol (effective), Guaifenesin (inconclusive) and DXM, which while I won't go look it up is probably in some of the "Effective" medicines.

I will grant that personally I find Nyquil much less effective now that the pseudoephedrine is gone, but at a minimum there's still Tylenol in it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:16 PM on February 20, 2007

Also good for the raw-feeling back of throat: lozenges. Hard candy will do fine too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:17 PM on February 20, 2007

"You can't really overdose on Vitamin C (it's one of the least toxic substances out there) unless you ate crates of it on its own, and supposedly it can help a lot."

While I know that you likely mean toxically overdose, I'd like to throw in there that if you take too much vitamin C, it can make you ill. Diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea. That can make your already miserable cold a little more miserable.
posted by viachicago at 9:46 PM on February 20, 2007

If you are herbally inclined:
Gan Mao Ling- early stages
Yin Chao- early stages with a sore throat
Generally I take 1.5x the recomended dose every 2-3 hrs for 3-4 doses then follow the directions.
Or you could take a cup of ginger tea and a hot bath and wrap up well (so you sweat) when you get out.

I find my body is more and more responsive to herbs the longer I have been taking them. It is almost like it has figured out how to use what is being offered.
posted by pointilist at 10:11 PM on February 20, 2007

When I was in college I discovered that Contac 12 hour cold medication helped me weather the symptoms a LOT better than Dayquil/Nyquil, which I had previously tried in combination whenever I got sick. One Contac when I woke up in the morning and one after dinner helped me a LOT. I must have forgotten this, because right now I once again have Day/Nyquil at home, and when I had a cold in January they didn't seem to help much other than letting me sleep at night and be awake (but feeling shitty) during the day. I've bookmarked this thread for future reference : )
posted by autojack at 10:17 PM on February 20, 2007

Oh, and you might check out this old thread that I had bookmarked too.
posted by autojack at 10:18 PM on February 20, 2007

A little salted water in a neti pot, three times a day. Pour it in one nostril and out the other. Just washes your sinuses right out.
posted by nicwolff at 10:19 PM on February 20, 2007

@theonlycooltim: The doctors didn't like meds that combined a bunch of different things because they didn't like that it means that people are giving themselves drugs for symptoms they may not have- hence my note in parentheses after theraflu. To answer your question, acetaminophen is great, yes, guafinesin is inconclusive, and dextromethorphan fell into the "ineffective" category with all that Robitussin DM, Delsym, Vicks 44E, Buckley's. Does that explain?
posted by liberalintellect at 6:28 AM on February 21, 2007

Eat a whole pineapple in one sitting. Sounds ridiculous, but has worked for me at least once when I was coming down with a cold. That and a lot of water, natch.
posted by zardoz at 7:01 AM on February 21, 2007

Oh, another, totally different folk remedy: chop up a head of garlic and a whole onion (I think the original recipe I saw called for a triple this amount, but perhaps that's overkill). Boil some water (you don't need very much, maybe enough to fill a plastic bottle) and dump in the onion and garlic. Turn off heat and let sit for a couple of hours. Strain out the garlic and onion and throw the mush away, don't need it anymore. Add the juice of a lemon or two. Now you have an elixir that stinks to high heaven but is totally chock full of antioxidants, plus some vitamin C. Take a tablespoon several times a day. I've had good success with this, too.

But be sure to gargle afterwards. You don't want to talk to many people after taking this stuff.
posted by zardoz at 7:21 AM on February 21, 2007

Zicam rocks the town.
posted by SampleSize at 7:27 AM on February 21, 2007

Doctors may not like people taking possibly superfluous medications, but I doubt there's some interaction between acetaminophen and the other ingredients that renders the acetaminophen ineffective, for example.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:55 AM on February 21, 2007

A combination of Sudafed, peppermint or green ginger tea, chocolate, and ice cream helped make me feel a lot better this past week - I actually went to work today. And then around 5:00pm, my cold turned into a sinus infection and it all went downhill from there....
posted by echo0720 at 6:01 PM on February 21, 2007

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