Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"When you have the common cold what is better to take, an expectorant or a decongestant? "
upper respiratory tract infections, stuffy nose, feeling hot with no fever etc.)
Thank you for your question about medications to take for the common cold. I recommend that you discuss this question more in depth with your primary care doctor. As you most likely already know, the common cold is caused by a virus. Usually the culprit is rhinovirus; however, there have been hundreds of viruses implicated in causing the cold. Unfortunately there are no medications with which to treat viruses. Bacterial infections, on the other hand, are the type of infections that we take antibiotics for. Because many patients seek treatment from their doctors for viral infections, antibiotics have been overly prescribed and have led to antibiotic resistance in the community. The most we can do for the common cold is to treat the symptoms which many over the counter medications exist for. Expectorants work by helping you to expel mucous from your body. They increase your body's production of clear secretions, making your mucous less viscous and more easy to cough up. That is why they are often found in cough medications such as Robitussin. Decongestants work by causing vasoconstriction of blood vessels in the nose, throat, and sinuses which can decrease the amount of inflammation and alleviate the feeling of a stuffy nose. Sudafed is an example of a common over the counter medication with this effect. If you are not having a particularly productive cough, a decongestant may help more with your symptoms. As long as you realize that these medications are for symptomatic treatment only, not a cure, you really cannot go wrong. Whatever you find works best for you to alleviate symptoms is a good bet. Again, please speak with your primary care doctor if you have any further questions or concerns.
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