Medicine Cabinet Tips for Cold and Flu Survival

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“Dear Pharmacist,

I want to be ready so what are the best cold and flu medicines to keep in my house in case one of us gets the swine flu?”
–A.B. Austin, Texas

Answer: The flu season is upon us, and with added fear about the H1N1 (swine) flu, it isn’t a bad idea to keep a few things on hand in case you get sick. You’re not the only one preparing. The last time I worked in the pharmacy the cold and flu medications were flying off the shelves.

If you happen to get sick, you should only take medications for the symptoms you are experiencing. Below are some of my picks from both sides of the counter, so you will see options for conventional drugs as well as natural remedies. Please ask your doctor if these are right for you:

Fever reducers: In children, the best choices are acetaminophen and ibuprofen because these medications can be administered in tasty liquids, chewable tablets and suppositories. Of course, adults can take these meds as well. Naturally speaking, catnip herb is a wonderful fever remedy for respiratory infections because it may relieve congestion and it’s very calming. Chamomile tea may also have a slight beneficial effect on fever.

Most health experts don’t recommend bringing down mild fevers because the elevated temperature is your body’s way of fighting off the germs which die in higher temperatures.

Body Aches and Pains: The same medications used for fever reduction also work as potent pain relievers. Pineapple extract (bromelain) has some pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.

Sneezing, Itchy Eyes and Runny Nose: These symptoms are relieved by antihistamines. Products that contain loratadine (Claritin), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), clemastine (Tavist), or cetirizine (Zyrtec) are useful at drying you up.  Two natural options are quercetin and stinging nettle herb.

Sore Throat: Sucrets Ice pops are a kid-friendly choice because they contain an oral numbing agent (menthol) along with zinc and echinacea. You buy them, freeze them at home and use when needed. You can try Hall’s brand which contains cooling menthol and eucalyptus. You can also try zinc lozenges like Cold EEZE or just gargle with salt water. Another popular natural remedy is Thayers Slippery Elm Throat Lozenges sold at many health food stores.

Stuffy Nose or Sinus Headache: The most popular medication is pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed and other multi-tasking cold formulas.) Infants and toddlers should be given non-medicated saline nasal sprays. You can also use aromatherapy if your sniffer is stuffed up. Just heat some water and put in a few drops of eucalyptus, lavender or peppermint oil into the water. Cover your head with a large towel and carefully, breathe in the steam. A popular herbal remedy that is used for decongestion is elderberry extract, sold by the brand name “Sambucol.”

Did You Know?
Licorice root is thought to have some anti-viral properties.