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Best Cold And Flu Medicine For Adults

Between mask mandates and social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s highly likely that you managed to dodge getting sick with a cold or the flu last year. Now, you may be back at the office or have kids back in school or are just around others much more, which means your chances of coming down with something are that much higher. Knowing what the best cold and flu medicine for you is will help you get back on your feet faster if you actually get sick.

The drugstore medicine aisle (or virtual ones on retailers like Amazon or Target!) can be overwhelming with all the brand and drug type options. So, we consulted with Soma Mandal, MD, a board-certified internist at Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, to break down the best cold and flu medicine for adults, and exactly what to take when and for what.

If you have congestion…

In the beginning stages of the common cold, it’s not unusual to experience nasal congestion (that is, a stuffy nose), says Dr. Mandal. Treatments can range from taking a steam vaporizer, drinking plenty of fluids, and using a saline nasal spray.

“These types of treatments can loosen up phlegm, help open up the passages, and keep the nasal passages moist,” she explains.

Over-the-counter decongestants also help open up the passages by reducing swelling in the nasal passages, adds Dr. Mandal. Nasal sprays such as Afrin and Neo-Synephrine can also be used but should not be used for more than three days at a time because they can cause rebound nasal congestion. Sudafed is another decongestant option that comes in tablet or pill form.

If you have a cough…

Sudafed PE Sinus Pressure + Pain Relief Maximum Strength Non-Drowsy Decongestant

With the common cold, coughs usually occur in response to postnasal drip, Dr. Mandal says. Remedies such as those described above for congestion can help with the drip and cough. “Keeping the head of the bed raised at a 30-degree angle can also help the drip from hitting the back of the throat while you are sleeping in bed,” adds Dr. Mandal.

If a cough occurs at a later stage and is accompanied by a fever or difficulty breathing, that’s concerning to a physician, and you should be checked by a medical professional to rule out pneumonia, she says.

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If you have a fever…

In the initial stages of a cold, adults can experience a low-grade temperature, Dr. Mandal says. With low-grade temperatures of 99 to 100 degrees, it’s okay to take acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (i.e., Advil or Motrin).

Advil Pain Reliever and Fever Reducer

“If temperatures are higher or if you develop a fever later in the course of a cold, [this may be a sign that something more serious] may be going on, like pneumonia,” she says.

If you have a runny nose…

For a runny nose, the same general recommendations as for nasal congestion would be typical, Dr. Mandal says. “If a runny nose is persisting despite these methods, you can try adding on a steroidal nasal spray such as Flonase,” she says.

Flonase Allergy Relief Nasal Spray



If your symptoms keep you up at night…

Tylenol PM Extra Strength Pain Reliever & Sleep Aid



You’ve probably noticed that a lot of cold and flu meds have nighttime or PM versions in the drugstore aisle. These can help you sleep better if your symptoms are preventing you from getting quality sleep, but note that they may make you feel overly groggy in the morning. As with all of the above remedies, don’t take more than the recommended dosage.

Ultimately, the common cold can be a nuisance every year, but chances are you can find something to alleviate your symptoms. Always talk to your doctor if you suspect you might be dealing with something more serious, and don’t forget to get your flu shot.

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