Aside from your doctor, the best person to give you advice about medications is your pharmacist. If you're coming down with a cold and need some relief, the pharmacist is the most readily available and qualified person to give you advice on which over the counter medicines to choose. Depending on your unique condition and the medications you are on, your doctor or pharmacist might advise against using certain over the counter medicines.
For example, if you have high blood pressure, you probably already know that over the counter decongestants aren't safe for you to take because of the way they constrict blood vessels. If you have high blood pressure and suffering with a cold or allergies, your doctor may prescribe something safe for you, or tell you of an over the counter alternative. With high blood pressure, the over the counter decongestants that you should be avoiding are anything with ephedrine, naphazoline, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine and oxymetazoline.
On the other hand, if you have a chronic lung disease, you should waste no time in treating your colds, as they can easily lead to an exacerbation. Most exacerbations in people with COPD or asthma start with a common head cold that drains into the lungs, or a chest cold. When your lungs become infected with a cold or bacteria, they build up more mucus, which can be very dangerous for people with lung conditions.
Here are some of the best adult cold medicines as described by pharmacists:
Mucinex, Mucinex D and Mucinex DM. The generic name for this over the counter medicine is guaifenesin. It's referred to as an expectorant or a mucolytic, since it's function is to help thin the mucus in your lungs so you can cough it up easier. Mucinex is often recommended for people with COPD.
NyQuil (Day time or Night time). This covers multiple symptoms and contains several different active ingredients, which are acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine, and pseudoephedrine. This can be taken to help you sleep through the night without suffering your cold or flu symptoms (pain or fever, runny/stuffy nose/cough), but if you have certain conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver or high blood pressure, your doctor or pharmacist might advise against using it, and will help you find an alternative.
Sudafed. When you have a cold, the many blood vessels in your nasal passages swell and cause your nose to feel stuffed and will contribute to sinus pain. A decongestant like Sudafed will help shrink the blood vessels clear out the excess mucus. You shouldn't use a decongestant for more than three days at a time, since the effectiveness can wear off and you can experience undesirable side effects.
Afrin. The active ingredient in this is oxymetazoline hydrochloride. It works by clearing out nasal congestion and is a highly effective decongestant like Sudafed. You also shouldn't use this any longer than you need to, since there is a risk of developing a dependency. Taking this drug for too long can also cause damage to sinus tissue.
Vicks Chloraseptic. This comes in a spray, which you spray into your throat to give quick and temporary relief to a sore throat. It is an oral anesthetic and is safe to use, unless you have had reactions in the past with topical anesthetics.