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Cold and Cough Medicines

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Summary

What are cold and cough medicines?

Cold and cough medicines can help relieve symptoms of a common cold. The symptoms of a cold can include a sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and coughing.

You don't usually need to treat a cold or the cough that it causes. You can't cure a cold, and antibiotics won't help you get better. But sometimes the symptoms can keep you awake or cause a lot of discomfort. In that case, cold and cough medicines can sometimes be helpful.

What are the different types of cold and cough medicines?

There are lots of different cold and cough medicines, and they do different things:

  • Nasal decongestants - unclog a stuffy nose
  • Cough suppressants - quiet a cough
  • Expectorants - loosen mucus in your lungs so you can cough it up
  • Antihistamines - stop runny noses and sneezing
  • Pain relievers - ease fever, headaches, and minor aches and pains

What do I need to know about taking cold and cough medicines?

Before taking these medicines, read the labels and follow the instructions carefully. Many cold and cough medicines contain the same active ingredients. For example, some of them include pain relievers. If you are taking these medicines and are also taking a separate pain reliever, you could be getting a dangerous amount of the pain reliever.

Do not give cold or cough medicines to children under two, and don't give aspirin to children.

What else can I do to feel better for a cold or cough?

If you decide that you don't want to take cold and cough medicines, there are other ways to feel better:

  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Use a cool mist humidifier
  • Use saline nose drops or sprays
  • Use nasal suctioning with a bulb syringe, which can be very helpful in children under a year old

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.