Be smart about use of over-the-counter cold and flu meds

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OLATHE, Kan. -- With the flu and colds running rampant now, many of us are turning to over-the-counter medicines for coughs, stuffy noses and fever. Just as with prescription meds, you need to be smart about their use.

"Tell me how long you've been feeling sick," Dr. Melissa Lane said to her patient, Christina Young.

Young coughed repeatedly before saying, "About a week."

No doubt Young is sick. In addition to her regular asthma meds, she tried an over-the-counter remedy.

"Some Tylenol Cold and chest 'cause I was thinking it started feeling like a cold in the chest, and then it just, yeah, that didn't help. It wasn't working," said Young.

Dr. Lane of Olathe Family Physicians says some people may get symptom relief, but certainly no cure, with over-the-counter cold and flu meds. But there are also risks.

Beware of multi-symptom products. They often contain acetaminophen, the generic name for Tylenol, and it's something you may already be taking.

"And if you take multiple medications that have multiple doses of Tylenol in it, you can accidentally overdose yourself," said Dr. Lane.

Also, if you have high blood pressure, you shouldn't take products containing DM, dextromethorphan, since it can raise your pressure.

"Even some of the medications that have extra ibuprofen in it, anyone that has kidney dysfunction should avoid those as well," said the family physician.

What about kids? The Food and Drug Administration says children under two should not be given cough or cold medicines because of life-threatening side effects such as convulsions. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the drugs do not work in kids under six.

As for Young, her cold has led to a flare-up of her asthma. She'll get a prescription medicine for that.

Dr. Lane says alternatives to over-the-counter drugs include a vaporizer and nasal saline drops. She also suggests honey for a cough although honey should not be given to anyone under age one.