How to Choose an OTC Medicine for Your Cold and Flu Symptoms

The common cold is named common for a good reason. Most adults in the U.S. get, on average, two to four colds per year,1 with an all-too-familiar list of symptoms. Common cold symptoms include nasal congestion, headache, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes and throat, and runny nose. The flu, that other bad actor that comes around every winter, can cause many of the same symptoms as colds, with the addition of fever, chills or sweats, muscle aches and pains.1 But while you might be able to dodge the flu with a yearly flu shot, there are no vaccines for the common cold. There’s also no ‘cure’ for the common cold, either.

Early, effective treatment for flu symptoms can greatly lessen their severity.1

Vicks offers an extensive family of cough, cold, and flu products for everyone in your family, customized to provide the best combination of ingredients for many types of cough, cold, and flu. These products won’t cure your respiratory infection, but they can help you feel a whole lot better while you are getting well.

Many over-the-counter cold and flu medicines treat multiple symptoms. Make sure to identify what cold and flu symptoms you may be experiencing so you can get the relief you need.

Keep reading to find out what over-the-counter cough, cold, and flu product you can take to relieve your symptoms, and how they work.

Sore Throat

An itchy, scratchy, painfully burning, sore throat may be one of the first signs that makes you think you have a cold or flu virus. In short, A sore throat is an inflammation of the pharynx (throat) and surrounding area.

To relieve sore throat pain, you can take a medicine that contains an oral anesthetic, like menthol. VapoCOOL SEVERE Medicated Drops have menthol, with a powerful rush of Vicks Vapors that soothes your sore throat. You can also turn to a sore throat symptom relief medicine with the intense cooling and powerful numbing action. VapoCOOL Sore Throat Spray and VapoCOOL Sore Throat Lozenges both have benzocaine, a pain reliever that makes pain sensors less sensitive to painful stimuli, to help relieve sore throat symptoms.

If you have multiple cold and flu symptoms, you can turn to a multi-symptom relief product like DayQuil or NyQuil to relieve multiple cold flu symptoms, including sore throat, with one medicine.


When you get a cold virus, sometimes your cough just won’t quit. A cough is a protective, natural reflex intended to keep the airway clear. A cough from a cold or flu virus helps your lungs get rid of mucus that accumulates from the immune response.

Vicks VapoRub has been relieving cough symptoms since 1894. The menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oils release soothing medicated vapors to suppress coughs. Apply it to the chest and throat to temporarily relieve cough due to minor throat and bronchial irritation associated with the common cold.

If, along with cough, you have other cold or flu symptoms, you can opt for a multi-symptom relief medicine with dextromethorphan. The most widely used cough suppressant in OTC cough, cold, and flu medicines, dextromethorphan decreases the urge to cough by acting on the cough reflex center in the brain. DayQuil and NyQuil medicines all have dextromethorphan, plus other active ingredients for other common cold symptoms.

Be sure to pick the product that matches your symptoms.

Nasal Congestion and Sinus Congestion

Nasal congestion is the inflammation of the nasal passages—you might feel like you have a “stuffy nose.” Sinus congestion is the inflammation of the tissues lining your sinuses—you might also feel congestion in your nose, as well as pressure and pain around your sinuses.

Nasal and sinus congestion are uncomfortable—and whether you’re experiencing one or both, you want relief. Decongestants help with nasal and sinus congestion by constricting enlarged blood vessels to shrinking the swollen nasal tissue .

Sinex SEVERE Ultra Fine Nasal Mist, for example, has a decongestant that starts working instantly for up to 12 hours. It is a fast-acting nasal spray decongestant that relieves sinus pressure and shrinks swollen nasal membranes so you can breathe more freely.

NyQuil SEVERE and DayQuil SEVERE also have a decongestant that relieves nasal/sinus congestion and sinus pressure. You might want to try one of these, instead, if you have multiple cold symptoms.

Runny Nose and Sneezing

When runny nose and sneezing symptoms kickstart at the same time, it is uncomfortable. A string of multiple sneezes in a row is followed by non-stop mucus flowing out of your nostrils. A sneeze is a sudden burst of air expelled from the lungs through the nose and mouth. It’s the result of the inflammation of the trigeminal nerve in the nose. A runny nose is the result of excess nasal mucus production, leading to watery nasal secretions that discharge from the nostrils or drip down into the throat. In short—not pleasant, and where’s the relief?

Histamines are powerful immune signaling molecules that can set off a rapid and sometimes dramatic response to an infection or irritant. The response may include inflammation, increased blood flow to the affected area, and copious mucus production. The histamine response can be very intense and is partly responsible for how miserable your cold and flu symptoms can make you feel.

Antihistamines reduce the severity of the histamine response by blocking histamine activity and are helpful for treating sneezing, itching, watery eyes, and runny nose. NyQuil has an antihistamine to relieve your runny nose and sneezing symptoms from a cold or flu.

Chest Congestion

Chest congestion is the accumulation of mucus in the lungs and lower breathing tubes (bronchi). It is usually accompanied by a wet, productive cough that brings up thick mucus.

Expectorants help loosen or thin the mucus in the chest, making it easier to cough it up and out. For example, the expectorant guaifenesin increases watery secretions by the bronchial tubes, which helps thin the mucus and makes it easier to move out of the lungs through coughing.14

DayQuil SEVERE and DayQuil SEVERE Plus VapoCOOL have guaifenesin to relieve your chest congestion symptoms from a cold or flu.


A fever is a temporary increase of your body temperature. It might make you feel hot and sweaty. It may also give you the chills, making your body shiver in an attempt to generate more body heat to fight the virus. You may even get a headache or minor muscle aches and pains.

To relieve fever symptoms, you want to lower your internal body temperature back down to its optimal temperature, 98.6°F. Acetaminophen, the pain reliever/fever reducer, can help relieve minor aches and pains that come with a cold or flu. It also temporarily reduces fever.

If you have a fever from a cold or flu, DayQuil and NyQuil all have acetaminophen to help reduce fever and relieve minor aches and pains.

Choose the one product that best fits your cold symptoms to get relief.

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