The 7 Effective Treatments for Common Cold Symptoms in Adults

September 8th, 2019

By Natan Schleider, M.D.

Department of Health Advertisement on Cold and Flu Prevention (Circa Early 1900s)

‘We can put a man on the mood but can’t cure the common cold.” My grandmother would shake her head. saying this repeatedly, making me chug grape flavored Dimetapp and prune juice. This was her cold remedy cocktail and my have the cold remedy cocktail options grown. Walk through a large pharmacy’s Cold and Flu section without the Physician Desk Reference and you’re lost.

So while no cure exists for the common cold, also called a viral upper respiratory tract infection or URI, studies have been done revisiting whether common remedies used were, in fact, helpful or not. Some are even harmful.

The following seven remedies have good data to support their efficacy in relieving cold symptoms:

  1. Acetaminophen (aka Tylenol)
  2. Combination anthistamine plus decongestant (IE Zyrtec-D)
  3. Intransal ipratropium bromide (aka Atrovent) – particularly helpful for reducing the lingering cough after the infection which can last weeks
  4. Intranasal oxymetazotine aka Afrin – not to exceed 10 days
  5. Lactobacillus casei 22 grams per day in dairy products for 3 months
  6. NSAIDs – ie Advil or Alleve
  7. Zinc acetate or zinc gluconate – 80 to 92 mg per day within 3 days of symptom onset and continue until symptoms resolve

And now the list of remedies historically thought to have worked but proven no better than placebo for cold symptoms like cough: acetylcysteine, antibacterial antibiotics, antihistamines taken alone (that is, without a decongestant bundled in), antitussives and expectorants, codeine, echinacea, intranasal corticosteroids, African geranium, steam, garlic, Vitamin C. Vitamin D, and Vitamin E which actually worsened cold symptoms at doses of 200 mg or more.

So use the above list to help shop for cold symptom remedies and feel free to comment.


Thanks for reading,

Natan Schleider, M.D.

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