Merck Manual

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Nonprescription Remedies for the Common Cold

Nonprescription Remedies for the Common Cold

Action

Drug

Some Common Side Effects

Analgesics/antipyretics

Relieve aches and pains and reduce fever

Acetaminophen

Minimal

Aspirin

Stomach irritation

Risk of Reye syndrome in children

Ibuprofen

Stomach irritation

Naproxen

Stomach irritation

Antihistamines*

Open nasal passages and help relieve sneezing

Diphenhydramine

Chlorpheniramine

Drowsiness, dry mouth, and, in older people, blurred vision, difficulty urinating, constipation, light-headedness when they stand, and confusion

Cough suppressants

May help reduce cough

Benzonatate

Confusion and stomach upset

Codeine

Constipation, drowsiness, difficulty urinating, and stomach upset

Dextromethorphan

Minimal, but at high doses, confusion, nervousness, and irritability

Decongestants, nasal sprays*

Open clogged nasal passages

Naphazoline

Oxymetazoline

Phenylephrine

Xylometazoline

Rebound congestion (worse congestion when the drug wears off) if the drug is used for more than a few days

Decongestants, oral*

Dries runny nose

Pseudoephedrine

Palpitations, high blood pressure, nervousness, and insomnia

Phenylephrine

Anxiety, dizziness, nervousness, and insomnia

Expectorant

May help loosen mucus

Guaifenesin

Minimal, but at high doses, headache and stomach upset

*Decongestants and antihistamines (whether alone or combined) should not be given to children under 4 years old.