These days we all know much more about reducing our exposure to viral germs and viruses. But despite that hard-gained knowledge, many of us will still catch a cold over the winter. Is there a chance that with all the research into viruses there could someday be a cure? And what do we do in the meantime?

Seasonal Onset of Colds

The all-too-common cold is a misery common to most of us. Generally beginning in fall, the average adult gets 2 or 3 colds per year; children may get as many as 8. Each cold can last 7 to 10 days, and the cough can linger longer.

The virus infects the upper respiratory tract and affects the nose, throat, larynx, and large air passages that lead to the lungs. Symptoms include sore throat, stuffy nose, congestion, and cough. The cough from a cold can persist for a week or two longer than the cold itself. Irksome by day, at night cough can disrupt sleep and make recovery harder.

Although annoying, the impulse to cough is actually a good thing. Coughing is how the body clears obstructions from the respiratory tract – it means our immune system is fighting the virus. Also, in certain health conditions, coughs should not be suppressed. If caused by emphysema, asthma, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis or smoking, for example, coughing is performing an important function by keeping the lungs open.

A lingering cough after a cold may be caused by over-sensitized airways. The immune system is still on alert, and it over-reacts to inhaled particles, triggering a cough. Sinus drainage after the cold can also contribute. 

However natural it is, the need for relief from coughing impels sufferers to the pharmacy to contemplate cough & cold medications that might bring some relief.

Which Over the Counter Cold Medication to Choose?

Doctors and pharmacists suggest that if people decide to use cough medication they should choose one that matches their symptoms.

For coughs:

Non-prescription cough medications rely on two types of active ingredients. One is an antitussive, or cough suppressant – usually dextromethorphan. The other is an expectorant, which thins mucus – usually guaifenesin. Some products have both ingredients. Most pharmacists recommend antitussive products for dry, persistent cough, and expectorant for wet coughs.

For nasal congestion:

Decongestants reduce swelling in nasal passages, to ease breathing. Many decongestants include antihistamines, which are also used to treat itchy eyes and runny noses due to allergies and allergic reactions.

For other cold symptoms:

Many cold medications may include other active ingredients such as pain relievers, fever reducers, and analgesics to treat other cold symptoms. These are multi-symptom cold medicines designed to suppress cough, reduce runny noses, and treat aches and pains. 

Active ingredients, though, are only a portion of the total product. Inactive ingredients, or excipients, can comprise as much as 75% of each dose. Inactive ingredients are included in the medication to affect flavor, appearance, absorption, and preservation. Consumers who take multiple medications are wise to note those inactive ingredients, because since they are present in so many prescription and over the counter products it is possible to consume them in comparatively large quantities. High doses of these substances are not well researched. Allergic reactions, confusion, and other negative effects can occur as a result

Cautions of Cough Medication

Because of the inactive ingredients and the possibility of interactions, it’s always important to consult with a doctor or pharmacist before taking a new cough or cold medication, even a non-prescription cold medication. Always follow the instructions and take the medicine as directed, and do not give cough medicine to children younger than indicated. 

The truth is, however desperately we want relief from a cough, the reality is that over the counter products don’t appear to provide it. The American Chemical Society, the British Medical Journal, and the Cochrane Review have examined many studies of the effectiveness of these cough suppression products, and found no evidence that cough syrups have a beneficial effect on a cough. They all concluded that cough medicine is about as effective as a placebo.

What to Do for Relief

First, we can reduce the frequency of colds by using the measures that the pandemic taught us. Limit exposure to the virus with frequent hand washing, not touching the face, physical distancing and keeping away from people with colds. If we get a cold, take proper measures not to spread it to others.

If we do get a cold, there are some remedies with evidence of effectiveness. These cold remedies don’t work equally well for everyone, but they do have some proven effectiveness:

  • Zinc tablets may reduce the length and severity if taken within 24 hours of onset
  • Hard candies or cough drops can soothe the throat
  • Humidifiers and hot showers help some people
  • Staying well hydrated can thin mucus, making coughing more effective
  • Warm salt-water gargle can soothe tissues and relieve sore throat
  • Sleep with head elevated so sinus can drain and breathing is easier.
  • Honey has anti-microbial properties and has been found “more effective and less harmful” than cough medications in some studies. (Note: Honey is not recommended for children under 1 year old)

The Future of Consumer Health Products

Alexander Hardy, the CEO of Genentech, says: “Covid has absolutely changed the life sciences industry, and for the better…. The pandemic has catalyzed a huge amount of energy and results.” Life sciences and consumer health are more important now and have more resources than ever before. If you want to join the teams and companies that will cure a common cold or you want to strengthen your team of scientists, contact grapefrute today