DON’T LET COLD, ALLERGY MEDICINES GIVE YOU A HEADACHE

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When did choosing a cold, flu or allergy remedy become so complicated?

For example, Tylenol sells 11 products for colds and coughs and another seven for allergy and sinus problems — and those don’t include the formulations for children. Consumer Reports recently found that hidden in the pharmacy aisles are some effective treatments, but also ineffective products and even some potentially dangerous ones.

COLDS: KEEP IT SIMPLE: The best remedies for the common cold are usually the simplest and can often be found in your kitchen, not a drugstore. Soothe a sore throat, for example, with a saltwater gargle. For a cough, try honey or other nonmedicated lozenges. Those are better choices than cough suppressants that contain dextromethorphan, which provide little if any relief.

If necessary, CR suggests trying to dry up the postnasal drip that causes cold-related coughs with an older antihistamine, such as chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy). But don’t take those drugs if you have to be alert, since drowsiness is a side effect.

FLU: PREVENTION AND REMEDIES: This year, you have to be concerned about two kinds of flu: the usual seasonal flu and the new swine flu (H1N1 flu), which emerged in April. Scientists annually develop a slightly new version of the standard flu vaccine, modified to combat that year’s flu strain. Try to be vaccinated before December, when the flu virus usually arrives.

If you develop the flu, CR recommends trying many of the same strategies used to ease cold symptoms. Most people get better within 10 to 14 days. Antiviral drugs not only ease symptoms but also shorten the duration of seasonal flu and probably swine flu, too.

But overuse of the drugs might breed antiviral-resistant strains. Indeed, two once commonly used antiviral drugs, amantadine (Symmetrel and generic) and rimantadine (Flumadine and generic), are now largely ineffective against seasonal flu. There have also been several reports of swine-flu resistance to the most popular drug of this class, oseltamivir (Tamiflu). So the drugs make the most sense for people who are at the highest risk for flu complications, such as dehydration, severe diarrhea, or pneumonia. They include children under age 5 or people over 65; anyone with a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease; pregnant women; or anyone with a compromised immune system.

ALLERGIES: ALL ABOUT CONTROL: Controlling allergies starts by limiting your exposure to the triggers. To avoid outdoor triggers, CR recommends keeping windows shut and staying indoors when pollen or outdoor mold is high. To limit exposure to indoor allergens, use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier to reduce humidity to less than 50 percent. Remove carpeting in bedrooms, wash rugs and curtains often, and vacuum regularly.

To control allergy symptoms, the first drug choice is usually the generic version of the antihistamine loratadine or possibly cetirizine. Both are available without a prescription.