Colds, flu and coughing: a review of over-the-counter cold and flu medicines

  • J Van Schoor


The common cold is the most frequent human illness, and may be caused by several families of viruses, particularly the more than 100 serotypes of rhinoviruses. Inaccurate perceptions that antibiotics improve patient outcomes fuel the number of doctor visits and parental requests for  antibiotics. The inappropriate use of antibiotics for minor, self-limiting, usually viral, upper-respiratory tract infections does not alter the course of the disease, and adds to the burden of antibiotic resistance. In addition, there is also no evidence to suggest that antibiotics prevent secondary bacterial complications following viral upper-respiratory tract infections. While most over-the-counter cold and flu remedies have no proven  efficacy, they appear to attenuate the immune response to the infecting virus, and there is little doubt that appropriate symptomatic treatment can
make the patient feel better. Therefore, symptomatic therapy remains the mainstay of common cold treatment. This article briefly reviews the  components of cold and flu remedies, and provides a symptom-based assessment for the selection of appropriate over-the-counter medicine.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2078-6204
print ISSN: 2078-6190