Save money on cold medications

save money on cold medicinesCold season is here!

It’s that time of year when we head indoors, the kids go back to school (the biggest germ pool ever), and the makers of all types of cold medications start spending big bucks on advertising.

And it works. On average, Americans spend about $3.5 billion every year on over-the-counter cold and cough remedies.

But despite spending such a huge amount of money, has anyone ever bought a magic bullet to prevent or cure the common cold?

I doubt it. In fact, scientific evidence would tell you to save your money.

Frugal Nurse tips to save money this year

Over-the-counter supplements can be so expensive, and their usefulness so questionable, that I usually don’t waste my money. Here’s a list of what I know works (or not):


  • Wash, wash, and wash again! Or use hand sanitizer. Imagine all the germs on a door knob or the handle of a grocery cart, and you will wash obsessively, too! I use an inexpensive liquid soap, or an inexpensive hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
  • Use a neti pot on a regular basis to keep your sinuses healthy (they will be better able to fend of viruses) and wash out any unwanted germs or allergens. I use my neti pot weekly, or after I’ve been around someone with an active cold.
  • I’ve only had three or four colds in the last 10 years, and I attribute that to hand washing and using the neti pot.
  • I don’t bother with herbs and supplements, such as in Airborne or Emergen-C. Scientific evidence has proven several times that large doses of vitamin C do not prevent or shorten a cold.
  • Herbs and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so their claims are not necessarily supported by methodical research. Look on the label for what is called the “Quack Miranda Warning” and think again before opening your wallet:

This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. 


  • The only pain relievers I buy are acetaminophen and ibuprofen. They both work well for headaches, although I like ibuprofen more for the inflammation associated with a sore throat or sinusitis. Acetaminophen can be dangerous if you take more than the recommended dose, so read the label carefully. Don’t buy combination products that list acetaminophen as one of the ingredients.
  • For a stuffy nose, I use my neti pot, or pour steaming water into a bowl, drape my head with a towel, and breathe in the warm vapor. I also drink a lot of fluids to keep my sinuses hydrated so that they drain more easily.
  • There is some evidence that acetaminophen might act as a decongestant; but again, follow the label’s directions.
  • Decongestants might provide temporary relief, but they work by drying up your sinuses and can actually cause more discomfort when the secretions harden and clog your nasal passages. Yuck.  And, decongestants are stimulants, so can make you feel jittery and give you a rapid heart beat.
  • For a sore throat, I gargle with warm salt water. I mix one teaspoon of ordinary table salt into one cup of warm water and gargle two or three times for about a minute, total.
  • Another trick for a sore throat is to drink hot chocolate with marshmallows. Marshmallows are made of gelatin and when melted, the gelatin coats your throat and provides some temporary relief.
  • Sucking on an inexpensive hard candy can help, too, but it’s not necessary to buy expensive lozenges that are marketed specifically to treat a sore throat.
  • Coughs can last for up to three weeks and that is annoying. Unfortunately, over-the-counter cough remedies simply don’t work. Prescription cough syrups with codeine are the most effective, so if a cough is really interfering with your sleep, see your health care provider about getting a prescription. Otherwise, be patient and the cough will eventually go away.

We spend a lot of hard-earned money on all kinds of products to keep us healthy or improve our lives. We live in hope, and advertisers use that to their advantage, not ours!

Colds are simply a normal, if unwelcome, part of living. We can save a lot of money by using inexpensive home remedies to relieve the discomfort while we wait for the cold to run its course.

Remember–“Left to itself, a cold will hang on for a week, but proper treatment will cure a cold in seven days.”


Frugal Nurse


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