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Safe Use Of Cough And Cold Medicines
Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines
contain 1 or more ingredients used to decrease cough and cold symptoms. OTC cough medicine may contain an antitussive, expectorant, or both. Antitussives decrease cough by blocking your cough reflex. Expectorants thin your mucus to help clear it from your airway. Cold medicines may have any combination of a cough medicine, antihistamine, decongestant, and pain medicine. Antihistamines may help reduce runny nose and sneezing. Decongestants may help to reduce nasal congestion (stuffiness). Pain medicines also help to decrease a fever.
Seek care immediately if:
- You have a seizure.
- You have hallucinations.
- You have a fast or irregular heartbeat or trouble breathing.
- You have anxiety, irritability, restlessness, slurred speech, or trouble thinking.
- You have nausea, or you are vomiting.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have a severe sore throat along with a fever, headache, rash, nausea, or vomiting.
- You have a fever that gets worse or lasts longer than 3 days.
- You have a cough that lasts longer than 1 week.
- You have wheezing when you cough or breathe.
- You have blurred vision or dilated pupils.
- You have diarrhea or constipation.
- You develop a headache that does not go away, a fever, or a rash.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
How to safely give OTC cough and cold medicines to your child:
- Ask if it is okay to give a child who is 4 to 6 years old an OTC cough and cold medicine. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend another medicine or treatment.
- Choose a cold medicine that decreases only the symptoms your child has. Some cold medicines may have ingredients that your child does not need.
- Do not combine cough and cold medicines together or with pain medicine. Different cold medicines may contain the same ingredient. For example, cold medicines may contain acetaminophen. When you give your child more than one type of medicine, your child may get too much of the same ingredient.
- Do not combine cough and cold medicines with prescription medicines unless your child's healthcare provider says it is okay.
- Read the directions on the label. Find out if the medicine is right for your child's age and how much to give to your child. The dose for your child's weight or age should be listed. Do not give your child more than the recommended amount.
- Use the measuring tool that came with the medicine. Do not use another measuring tool, such as a kitchen spoon. Other measuring tools do not provide the right amount of medicine.
How to safely take OTC cough and cold medicines:
- Read the directions on the label to learn how much medicine you should take and how often to take it. Do not take more than the recommended amount. Choose medicine that decreases the symptoms you have.
- Do not combine cough and cold medicines together or with pain medicine. Different cold medicines may contain the same ingredient. For example, cold medicines may contain acetaminophen. When you take more than one type of medicine, you may take too much of the same ingredient.
- Do not combine cough and cold medicines with prescription medicines unless your healthcare provider says it is okay.
- Do not drink alcohol while you are taking cold medicines that make your drowsy. Alcohol can make the drowsiness worse.
People who should not take OTC cough and cold medicines:
Children under the age of 4 years should not take OTC cough and cold medicines. Do not give medicines that contain aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen. People with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, should talk to their healthcare provider before taking these medicines. Decongestants and medicines high in sodium (salt) can raise blood pressure. Pregnant or women who are breastfeeding should talk to their healthcare provider before taking OTC cough and cold medicines.
What you need to know about OTC cough and cold medicine overdose:
An overdose can cause blurred vision, dilated pupils, dry mouth, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. It may also cause anxiety, irritability, restlessness, hallucinations, slurred speech, trouble thinking, or unusual behavior. It may also cause a fast heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, seizures, or a coma. An overdose can become life-threatening.
What to do if you think your child or you took too much OTC cough and cold medicine:
Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.