COUGH AND COLD MEDICINES

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A GUIDE TO BUYING COUGH AND COLD MEDICINES

Manufactures constantly rebrand their cough and cold products to refresh the market but they always contain a mixture of the same ingredients. This guide helps you pick your product through the active ingredients rather than the manufacturers clever marketing! N.B. it is always best to check with a pharmacist  to see if any of the ingredients may not be suitable for any medical conditions or inappropriate with any other medication  you may be taking - either prescribed by the doctor or bought yourself. This guide is for adults only - seek advice from the pharmacist for anyone under the age of 18. It is also advisable to consult a pharmacist if you are on any regular medication to ensure that these products don't interact with your normal treatment or conditions.

The Active Ingredients.

Paracetamol - Pain killer and antipyretic (reduces fever)
Ibuprofen - Pain killer and antipyretic
Caffeine - Mild stimulant which also increases effectiveness of paracetamol
Phenylephrine - Decongestant (reduces the stuffiness of a cold)
Pseudoephedrine - A more potent decongestant
Guaifenesin - An expectorant (encourages clearance of mucous to treat chesty cough)

The combinations.

There are various combinations, these are the main ones:

Pain killer/Antipyretic and a decongestant - to treat pain, discomfort, fever and congestion

Pain killer/Antipyretic, caffeine and a decongestant  - to treat pain, discomfort, fever and congestion but mild stimulant and increased pain relief by approx. 1/3. 

Pain killer/Antipyretic, caffeine, a decongestant and an expectorant - to treat pain, discomfort, fever and congestion but mild stimulant and increased pain relief by approx. 1/3. and to relieve a chesty cough by encouraging the removal of mucous.

How do Brands try and confuse me into buying a particular product?

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MAXIMUM DOSES CONTACT YOUR PHARMACIST.

Words like 'MAX' - This indicates that there is nothing stronger. As long as there is 1g of paracetamol in one dose (500mg per capsule/tablet if the dose is two at one time), 12.2mg phenylephrine in one dose, 50mg caffeine in one dose and 200mg guaifenesin then you have your maximum doses. You cannot go over these or you would be overdosing. There are also maximums regarding amount of doses in 24 hours and a minimum number of hours between doses.
The maximum dose of pseudoephedrine is 60mg in one dose - this is only available from pharmacies and only 720mg can be bought at anyone time. You canNOT buy 720mg for you and 720mg for your neighbour. You can only buy 720mg in one go. You canNOT buy more than 720mg in multiple transactions. 
There are legal purchase limits that apply to all preparations - ask your pharmacist for more information.

Ultra - This means nothing, it generally refers to a product in the range that contains a smaller dose of one of the ingredients. E.g. there may be a product with 650mg paracetamol per dose). This could be referred to as 'cold and flu' and the ultra/max cold and flu may contain 1000mg paracetamol - the 650mg paracetamol is pointless, get the 1000mg paracetamol per dose. They could quite as easily use uber max super duper hyper cold killing ultimate strength. It would be no stronger.

Cold and flu vs MAX FLU - Probably the cold and flu has phenylephrine and the MAX FLU has pseudo ephedrine. This may be better as a decongestant but may not be more appropriate for you.

All-in-one - This means all the ingredients are in one tablet/capsule. Convenient but hardly a selling point as they are all formulated into one tablet/capsule. Careful with these as they generally contain a cough preparation (guaifenesin) which may not be needed. It also generally means that they treat all symptoms

Condition related branding - Sinus and Pain, Cold and Flu, Congestion Relief, Head Cold, Mucus Relief, Congestion and Headache Relief, Pressure and Pain.
They all treat all these symptoms with the right ingredients ask your pharmacist and they will get you an appropriate product for your symptoms!

Dual action / triple action - It treats more than one symptom. In that case paracetamol on its own is dual action as it treats more than one symptom!

Day and Night capsules - careful with these. Some day and night capsules may actually contain ingredients at night that cause drowsiness and may aid sleep (whilst also drying up nasty nasal secretions). Others however have paracetamol, phenylephrine and caffeine in and simply remove the caffeine at night. This does not make it better - in fact if anything it would not improve the effectiveness of paracetamol. If you had a cup of coffee at night with the night capsules/tablets, it would probably be the same as the day capsules!

So what do I choose?

It is important to realise that most products treat most symptoms and there are only a few symptoms of cold and flu. Manufacturers refer to these symptoms in different ways to make it seem as if their products target particular symptoms. Combination preparations don't target specific symptoms. Single preparation products do.

Symptoms that may need treating include:

Aches and pains, Fever, Congestion, Cough, Runny nose, Fatigue, sore throat, fever is mainly associated with the flu.

What treats what?

Paracetamol - Pain killer and antipyretic (reduces fever)
Ibuprofen - Pain killer and antipyretic
Caffeine - Mild stimulant which also increases effectiveness of paracetamol
Phenylephrine - Decongestant (reduces the stuffiness of a cold)
Pseudoephedrine - A more potent decongestant
Guaifenesin - An expectorant (encourages clearance of mucous to treat chesty cough)

Pick the medicines to treat your symptoms and choose a product that contains those. Ignore products with medicines that treat symptoms that you do not have as these will be useless to you and only cost more!

Take care with decongestants in tablets - these can affect certain conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. There are alternative nasal products available and inhalants as alternatives.

Take care with ibuprofen also - this can cause problems in people with stomach problems/stomach ulcers and in some asthmatics. 

Check with your pharmacist to see if preparations are appropriate for you or if you should avoid certain ingredients. Remember though that 'generic' (i.e. non branded products) are generally cheaper so you may get recommended a branded product as these attract a greater profit margin for the store!

So there you have it, choose your product wisely. You should be feeling better within the week anyway!

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