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OTC Medications to Have on Hand This Winter NEXT ARTICLE 

OTC Medications to Have on Hand This Winter

We’re officially in the depths of cold and flu season. If your household hasn’t been hit yet, consider yourself lucky. If you have, then you know how much it helps to have some over-the-counter (OTC) medications and home remedies on hand when sore throats, runny noses, and fevers start. Here are a few non-prescription items that make cold and flu season a little easier to manage.

When it comes to treating cold and flu symptoms, there are two categories of medications to have on hand:

  • Fever, ache, and pain reducers
  • Cold and cough medications

Fever, Ache, and Pain Reducers

Two of the most commonly used OTC medications, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and ibuprofen (e.g. Advil or Motrin), temporarily reduce fever and relieve minor aches and pains due to headache, muscular aches, and the common cold.

As many parents know, most pediatricians are quick to suggest infant Tylenol for small children, when no other OTC medication would be safe.

Ibuprofen can be very effective at reducing the inflammation in a swollen sore throat, for example. But keep in mind that Ibuprofen is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), so it may not be right for everyone, including pregnant women.

Cold and Cough OTC Medications

Cold and cough medications generally fall into four categories:

  1. decongestants
  2. antihistamines
  3. cough suppressants
  4. expectorants


These over-the-counter medications help relieve a stuffy nose and congestion. Common decongestants include:

  • Afrin, Dristan, Vicks Sinex (oxymetazoline)
  • Sudafed PE, Suphedrin PE (phenylephrine)
  • Silfedrine, Sudafed, Suphedrin (pseudoephedrine)


Often used to treat allergies, antihistamines may help sneezing and runny noses. OTC antihistamines include:

  • Brompheniramine (Dimetane)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
  • Clemastine (Tavist)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)

Cough Suppressants

These work best for dry, hacking coughs that keep you awake at night. OTC options include:

  • Dextromethorphan (Triaminic Cold and Cough, Robitussin Cough, Vicks 44 Cough and Cold)


Expectorants work best for coughs that produce mucus or phlegm. Common expectorants include:

  • Guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin Chest Congestion)

It is important to note that these medications can be dangerous if given to young children. Store your medications safely and check with your pediatrician before giving any medication to your children.

Other At-Home Cold and Flu Treatments

Outside of medications, there are a variety of other ways to manage cold and flu symptoms. You may want to keep the following items at home to be prepared:

  • Cool mist humidifier
  • Vapor rub
  • Tissues
  • Soap and water
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Household cleaning supplies
  • Honey, for treating a sore throat. Please note that honey cannot be given to children under the age of one
  • Extra sets of sheets and towels, for late-night clean-up of the stomach flu
  • Fluids to promote hydration, such as water, tea, broth, Pedialyte, and/or fruit juice

Keeping your medicine cabinet (and pantry) well stocked during cold and flu season will make it much easier to help your family members stay comfortable if they come down with an illness.

Pay Less for OTC Medications

If you are concerned about how to afford the cold and flu supplies your family needs, there are several ways to get discounts on over-the-counter medications. For example, did you know that in some cases you can use a prescription savings card on OTC medicine?

Finding ways to spend less at the pharmacy can help keep your family and your wallet healthy this winter.


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