Feeling snot-nosed and sneezy? You’re going to need more than blessings.
Cold and flu season is officially here, and if it’s anything like last year’s — the longest flu season in a decade in the US, at 21 miserable weeks — it’s going to be a doozy.
For a speedy recovery, rest and hydration are key, says Dr. Tania Mucci-Elliott, an internist with NYU Langone Health who specializes in infectious diseases, allergies and immunology. But there’s also no shame in turning to meds to alleviate some of those nasty symptoms and speed things along.
Here, pros recommend medicines and remedies to help beat the cold and flu.
Best cold medicines
Reach for medicine that will target mucus, which can cause runny noses, congestion, sore throats and coughs — all the worst parts of having a cold. “Both colds and flus stimulate the immune system to create a ton of mucus,” Mucci-Elliott says. “So you want to manage the symptoms and reduce the inflammation.”
Start with an expectorant, which can loosen up the mucus so you can cough it up. Robitussin is among the more common over-the-counter expectorants.
Also pick up a mucolytic, such as Mucinex, which can then thin down the density of the mucus you’ve brought up, Mucci-Elliott says, making it easier to finally get rid of it and breathe easier.
As for the stuffy nose, go for a simple decongestant, such as Sudafed, which contains phenylephrine, an ingredient that will help to shrink the blood vessels in your nose so you can breathe a little easier.
As for the natural stuff, “echinacea is classic,” says Rachelle Robinett, an herbalist and holistic health practitioner at Supernatural, a “plant-based wellness” cafe in Industry City. Research suggests that the herbal supplement can stimulate the immune system, potentially helping your body get over the sickness faster. She recommends Herb Pharm’s Echinacea Root Liquid Extract, since it’s organic and doesn’t have the sugar you sometimes find in herbal remedies.
Robinett also suggests an elderberry extract for an immune system boost, helpful in both fighting and preventing a cold. “It typically comes in a syrup,” she says. When you’re shopping, look for one with “as little sugar as possible — none if you can do it,” because sugar may cause inflammation, which could worsen cold and flu symptoms. She advises Herb Pharm’s Black Elderberry Liquid Extract.
Finally, make sure you have Mama’s chicken noodle soup recipe handy. “Believe it or not, studies have shown that chicken soup can stimulate production of … cells that fight bacteria,” says Mucci-Elliott.
Best flu medicines
Reach for the same combination as you would a cold: mucus meds and a decongestant.
However, with most flus, a fever can be the worst part. Most of the time, it’s your body’s natural response, and there’s not much you can do except wait for it to run its course, Mucci-Elliott says.
But if it’s gotten to the point where “you’re having shaking chills or body aches,” take the recommended dose of Tylenol, which can help bring the fever down to a more manageable temperature.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of hydration during the flu.
“Drink twice as much water as usual,” Robinett says. “All that sneezing and runny nose business is our body flushing out the bacteria or virus, and we need extra hydration to aid in the process.”
Other than good old water, Mucci-Elliott says something with electrolytes are especially good if you’re dealing with a stomach flu. She prefers a low-sugar Gatorade.
One important note: Whatever you’re fighting off, be careful not to accidentally double up with medicines that have similar ingredients. If you do, “You’re getting double the dose, and that can have side effects, including hindering sleep,” Mucci-Elliott says.
Best cough medicines, suppressants and cough drops
Reach for cough drops with the ingredient glycerin, which can hydrate the throat and lubricate your vocal cords. Ocusoft’s green apple cough drops come with the ingredient and the added help of green apple, which can act as a mucus thinner.
Also, look for cough drops that have honey — not honey flavoring — in them, which can help coat the throat, Mucci-Elliott says.
The best cough suppressants have the ingredient dextromethorphan, Mucci-Elliott says. But, she adds, only take it in the amounts recommended on the box, and try not to lean on it for multiple days in a row. Too much can make you drowsy or loopy.