Look for a few simple, inexpensive ingredients
Flu is raging across the country.
Most cases don’t require a trip to the emergency room or even the doctor. But there are a few over-the-counter (OTC) flu medicines that can help treat the most common symptoms: fever, headache, sore throat, muscle pain and cough.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money, and these products can be used for other illnesses, too. They are basics that everyone should have on hand in their medicine cabinet.
First, remember to buy generic. The store brand will be significantly cheaper than a name brand.
The makers of name-brand products will tempt you with lines like “New and Improved Formula,” “Maximum Strength,” or “For Severe Symptoms.” Don’t be fooled. Read and compare the ingredients list.
Related post: Save money on cold medications
Choose the right medication for the symptom
Always follow the dosing directions on the label.
- Aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen treat fevers. For adults, unless a fever is really high, over 102°F or so, there’s really no need to treat it. A fever is simply a sign of the body’s defense mechanism in action.
- Do not give aspirin to infants or toddlers.
- Read more information about treating fevers in adults and children.
Pain relievers for headache, sore throat or muscle pain
- Aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen all treat pain, as well as fever.
- Acetaminophen works well for headache pain, and doesn’t cause stomach discomfort like ibuprofen or aspirin can. However, it doesn’t work as well for pain associated with inflammation.
- Ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin work best for sore throats or muscle pain.
- I prefer to use acetaminophen if I only have a headache, and ibuprofen if I have a headache as well as the other pain symptoms.
- Dextromethorphan is the main ingredient in cough suppressants. It works by decreasing the feeling that you need to cough. A side effect of dextromethorphan is slight drowsiness, so it’s best to take it at bedtime.
- It’s moderately effective, but most ordinary coughs can last for up to 3 weeks, so time and patience are probably more cost effective in the long run.
Related post: Save money on cough medicines
Avoid these ingredients when treating the flu
Flu is a lung virus. If you have a stuffy, runny nose and a sinus headache, it’s more likely a cold or allergy.
You probably won’t need products with:
- Decongestants, such as phenylephrine, oxymetazoline, or pseudoephedrine
- Antihistamines (for allergies), such as diphenhydramine, fexofenadine, loratadine, cetirizine or chlorpheniramine
- Expectorants, cough syrups that work by thinning and loosening the mucus in your airway (a flu cough is usually dry, not goopy); Guaifenesin is the most common expectorant.
In addition to buying generic, you can save money by not buying combination drugs. Just buy the ingredients you need.
Again, always read the labels.