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When you are sick with a cold or flu, you might feel desperate for some kind of remedy, drug, or technique that will bring you relief for your symptoms. There are many products on the market claiming to be the best medicine for colds and flus, so it can be tricky to navigate the options and choose the right thing for your needs.


Treating Viral Infections such as The Cold or Flu

No antibiotics green flat banner on white background.

There is one treatment that we know for sure is not the best medicine for colds and flus, and that is the antibiotic. The common cold and all strains of influenza are caused by viruses, and so antibiotics are useless against them. The reason for this is, antibiotics kill bacteria cells without damaging the host cells. Viruses hijack cells to make them do what they want, and they reproduce inside the cells of the host. It is easier to produce antibiotics that will kill off bacteria than it is to produce antiviral drugs because antivirals may damage the host cells as well as killing the virus. 

There are antiviral drugs for some viral infections, and these work by slowing down the rate of reproduction of a virus. Viruses mutate frequently and so drugs that target viruses, such as vaccines, have to be changed regularly to target new strains of the virus. Antiviral medications are available to treat flu but are generally only used if it is a particularly dangerous strain or if the person is at risk of complications, such as those who are immunocompromised. Antiviral treatment does not ‘cure’ the flu, but it can reduce the severity of the symptoms and the longevity of the illness.


The Best Medicine for Colds and Flus

Woman using a nasal decongestant - one of the best medicine available for colds and flus
  • Analgesics/Fever Meds – Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can relieve pain such as headaches and body aches that are common in both colds and flus. These simple pain relievers are among the best medicine for colds and flus because they also help reduce a fever. It is often the combination of body aches and mild fever that comes along with a viral infection that makes us feel so groggy and unwell, and these inexpensive medicines, widely available over the counter, can be really effective ways to get relief. Never exceed the recommended dosage, and always check with your doctor if you have any contraindications for taking these medicines, for example, liver problems.

  • Decongestants – If it is the bunged-up, stuffy nose feeling that bothers you, the endless dripping nose, or the postnasal drip, then decongestants can be a good choice. The stuffy feeling is caused by swollen blood vessels in the nose and airways. Medicines containing decongestants such as pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, or oxymetazoline can dilate the blood vessels in the nose and allow air in and mucus out. This allows mucus to drain away and makes breathing easier. Decongestants come as pills, liquids, and as nasal sprays. These are only suitable to be used short-term only, and they are not suitable at all for many with certain health conditions (especially cardiac conditions such as high blood pressure). If you are being prescribed a decongestant, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, and if you purchase a decongestant over the counter, then make sure you read the packaging carefully.

  • Expectorants and Cough Medications – There are lots of ways to ease a cough, from simple remedies such as hot drinks and honey to cough suppressants. There are many cough remedies available over the counter, some containing herbal preparations, others relying on soothing throat discomfort by lubricating the throat. Generally, coughing is a good thing; it is the body’s way of getting rid of excess mucus on the chest. To help with this, expectorants are some of the best medicine for colds and flus. An expectorant thins and loosens mucus in the chest, helping to clear the airways and make it easier to breathe. The most commonly used expectorant is guaifenesin, and this is found in some cough liquid medications and is also available in tablets or pills. It is often found in preparations that contain other ingredients, such as pain relievers.

If your cough is keeping you up at night or is causing real discomfort, then a cough suppressant may help. Cough remedies containing dextromethorphan can help suppress a cough and allow you to get some rest.


The Ultimate Treatment for Colds and Flus

A glass of water - drinking plenty of fluids is the best medicine for helping get over a cold or the flu

The best medicine for colds and flus is not really medicine at all! In fact, the best remedies are those that come most naturally to us when we are sick; rest and fluids. Many doctors will tell you that the best way to manage a cold or flu is simply to rest and allow your body to fight the illness. When you rest, you allow your body to use its energy to fight the viral infection. 

Ensuring you consume plenty of fluids is one of the most underestimated remedies for colds and flus. People often go looking for remedies to purchase over the counter or on prescription from a doctor without realizing that one of the best medicine for colds and flus is, in fact, water. Drinking fluids does a lot of what these other medicines do; it loosens mucus and makes it thinner, so it is easier to cough up. It hydrates the body, so it can function properly and more easily mount an immune response. It also helps keep you hydrated if you suffer from any diarrhea. Not only that but staying hydrated may even help ease pain!

Food is also good medicine when you are fighting off a viral infection. As long as you feel like eating, try to eat a balanced diet of fresh produce to give your body a boost of the nutrition it needs. There are many demands placed on the body when it is fighting a cold or flu, and keeping up fluid intake, feeding the body with the nutrients it needs, and resting so the immune system can do its job is a very sensible and effective way to manage your illness. 

If your symptoms are severe, you have an underlying health condition, or you are concerned for any reason about your recovery, then always seek personal medical advice on your condition before treating it yourself at home.