Colds may come easy, but they certainly aren’t cheap.
Americans spend an estimated $3.6 billion each year on over-the-counter cold medicines, according to Nielsen Co. But many cold cures do little to stifle the sniffles.
If you are looking for ways to manage a cold, here's some buyer-beware advice that could also help save money.
Cold Battling Methods That Can Save You
Cost: Progresso Chicken & Homestyle Noodle Soup (Stock Quote: GIS), 19 oz. ($2.79) or Campbell's Chicken Noodle Condensed Soup (Stock Quote: CPB), 10.75 oz. ($1.49)
Effectiveness: Moms serve chicken soup bedside with good cause; soup and broth are natural decongestants. Canned and homemade are both OK, although homemade tends to be lower in sodium.
Black or Green Tea
Cost: Twinings Green Tea, 50 ct box ($5.49) or Celestial Seasonings Authentic Green Tea (Stock Quote: HAIN), 40 ct. box ($3.99)
Effectiveness: Tea contains flavonoids, a natural antioxidant compound, as well as theanine, an amino acid that may boost immunity.
Cost: Yogi Tea Organic Ginger, 16 ct ($2.99)
Effectiveness: Jennifer Greenfield, a chiropractor in Raleigh, N.C., recommends ginger tea for nausea. It's available pre-packaged or can be made at home by steeping sliced ginger root in hot water for 10 minutes. (Ginger has a strong flavor, so taste test after five minutes.)
Cost: Gatorade (Stock Quote: PEP), various flavors 32 oz ($1.79) or Powerade, various flavors 32 oz ($1.10)
Effectiveness: Coughing, sneezing and frequent trips to the bathroom deplete fluids. Low-calorie electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade or water are safer choices than heavily caffeinated drinks, which often act as diuretics.
Cost: Gefen Honey Bear, 12 oz. ($3.99)
Effectiveness: Mark Moyad, MD, the Phil F. Jenkins Director of Preventive & Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center, says that honey is recommended by the World Health Organization as a good choice for coughs. He recommends a teaspoon for children ages 2 to 10. Older children and adults can have a second helping.
Pain Relievers (acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen)
Cost: Tylenol (Stock Quote: JNJ), 100 tablets ($7.99); Rite Aid Aspirin (Stock Quote: RAD), 500 tablets ($3.74) or Advil (Stock Quote: WYE), 100 caplets ($8.49)
Effectiveness: Acetaminophen or pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen will ease the aches and help you sleep better at night. Children and teenagers, however, shouldn't use aspirin due to the risk of developing Reye syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
Cost: Tom's of Maine unscented hand soap, 10 oz. ($6.09); Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer, 8 oz. ($3.99)
Effectiveness: You can't beat prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges Americans to wash their hands with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds to prevent spreading germs. A sanitizing hand gel containing 62 percent ethyl alcohol works well too. Stay away from antibacterial soaps as they are less effective and may build germ resistance.
Cold Battling Methods That Can Cost You
Cost: Robitussin Cough & Cold CF Adult (Stock Quote: WYE), 8 oz. ($7.99) or Rite Aid Tussin Cough Formula for Children and Adults (Stock Quote: RAD), 8 oz. ($4.89)
Effectiveness: Neither the American College of Chest Physicians nor the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends dextromethorphan—the active ingredient found in many cough medicines—as an effective treatment.
Multi-Symptom Cold Remedies
Cost: Vicks Nyquil Cold & Flu Multi-Symptom Relief (Stock Quote: PG), 10 oz. ($6.49)
Effectiveness: Another thumbs-down. Moyad believes that "dilution leads to pollution," as multi-symptom meds don't have enough of any one ingredient to be effective.
Cost: Airborne Effervescent Health Formula, 10 tablets ($6.19)
Effectiveness: Moyad dismissed Airborne as nothing more than "dressed up vitamin C." Its company, Airborne Health, recently agreed to pay $7 million to settle charges in 32 states that it inflated the drug’s claims.
Cost: Zicam Cold Remedy RapidMelts, 25 tablets ($11.99) or Cold-Eeze Lozenges, 18 ea. ($5.99)
Effectiveness: Zinc can be toxic in high doses if used long-term, but those copious quantities are also what supposedly makes it effective. And while there are studies that shows zinc can cut the duration of a cold, there are others that suggest the link is inconclusive.
When To Seek Help
If your cold symptoms last longer than two weeks or become progressively worse it’s time to consult a physician or seek treatment at an urgent care facility. You may have a more serious condition and should take care to avoid further complications.