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When is Nonprescription Cold Medicine Not Enough?

(ARA) – Do you have a cold that just won’t go away? The aisle at your local drugstore is overflowing with different cold medicines, and choosing the right one feels like a gamble with your wallet taking the hit at every purchase.

Without a cure, the common cold is a treat-the-symptoms illness and that’s where the picture gets even more complicated. According to the Mayo Clinic, the common cold is caused by more than 100 viruses, which means signs and symptoms vary greatly.

From coughing and sneezing to body aches and nausea, the common cold is different in the estimated 62 million cases occurring each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And that adds up to a lot of symptoms and cold medicine.

When you take nonprescription medicine for four to seven days and your symptoms do not improve or the symptoms get worse, it is time to go to seek medical attention, according to Sarah Braga, who is a Registered Pharmacist who holds a Doctorate in Pharmacy and serves as director of drug information and associate professor at South University’s School of Pharmacy in Columbia, S.C.

“While antibiotics are not appropriate for treating a viral infection, complications from the common cold can include bacterial infections such as sinusitis, ear infections, and pneumonia. Remember that your pharmacist is there to help you long before you have a prescription in hand.”

Pharmacists are trained to conduct assessments and to make recommendations on a wide range of nonprescription medications, including herbal remedies, vitamins, and supplements. For the common cold, remedies come in three broad categories: pain relievers, decongestant nasal sprays and cough syrups. Reading the labels and understanding dosage, especially for young children, is critical.

“Nonprescription medicine should be taken with the same care as prescription medicine, especially for those with complicating factors such as pregnancy or chronic long-term medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma,” says Dr. Braga. “And your pharmacist is there to help you make good choices for treating your cold symptoms and can help you with dosage instructions.”

Consider these factors when evaluating whether or not it is time to see the doctor.
1. Do you have a fever?
2. Have you been treating your symptoms for a week with no improvement or have the symptoms gotten worse?
3. Are you experiencing unusual symptoms such as dizziness, new pain, coughing blood, etc.?
4. Do you have complicating factors such as diabetes, or are you pregnant?

If you can answer “yes” to two or more of the above questions, it is probably time to seek medical attention.

For most people suffering with the common cold, standing in the drugstore aisle reading the labels on nonprescription cold medicine and trying to decide which one to use is a challenge. Remember, you are not alone, and your pharmacist is there to help.