Cold Season — Dr. Peter J. Rice

“The Pharmacist’s Family Has No Drugs”


You may have heard the old saying, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes”. I could not help but think of that last week when I got a text from my wife, Sandy – “I have an ear ache”. We had visited the grandson over Christmas and brought home one of the gifts that no one wants.

I soon phoned her to find out what we had on hand to relieve her pain. We had an impressive array of potential medications, none of which was quite what she was looking for, and all outdated:

  • Gentizol ear drops (dog’s medication)
  • Allegra and Allegra-D samples
  • baby aspirin
  • Dimetapp Elixir
  • Stool Softener.

Not very many good choices. You may be tempted, as I was, to suggest the dog’s ear drops for the wife’s ear ache, but that idea was unwelcome. So was the stool softener. We were just not prepared for the common cold.

Cold Season!

Cold Season!

On the way home I stopped at a local chain pharmacy to stock up on what we should have had readily available in preparation for the common cold.

The wife isn’t always calm when she has to breathe through her mouth, but I was able to understand her symptoms: runny nose, modest congestion, modest cough and an ear ache.

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) is a good drug to consider for some cold symptoms. Diphenhydramine’s effects include drying secretions and drowsiness. If your nose is dripping, diphenhydramine can help. It can make you sleepy, which can be good at night but annoying during the day. Sandy took some which dried up her drippy nose and allowed her to sleep, but she later complained that her mouth was uncomfortably dry at night – the price of diphenhydramine’s drying effects. Our dog had lower strength diphenhydramine tablets which might have helped, but I’d already been burned for suggesting she steal her dog’s ear drops.

Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed™) is a decongestant, a drug which will decrease swollen nasal and sinus passages and can allow patients to breathe easier. Sometimes ear discomfort can be caused by swollen Eustachian tubes which hamper ear drainage; decongestants can help. The downside of decongestants is that they pep you up and can keep you awake at night. So we often find diphenhydramine in night time cold medications for runny noses and decongestants in daytime cold medications touted to be non-drowsy.

Sometimes there is something you just have to do when you have a cold because that’s how it’s always been done. My wife is a big fan of Vick’s Vaporub. Many folks have fond memories of moms rubbing them with Vaporub during a cold. The scent of menthol-eucalyptus is just the way it’s supposed to smell when you have a cold; often that’s about all you can smell through your cold. Sandy’s mom used to cut a sheet into a long rectangle and wrap it around her neck over the Vick’s; that looked a little unfashionable, but also looked like it would help.

There was more to the cold. The symptoms evolved and it’s still going on after almost a week, but the end appears to be in sight. I can continue the story next time.

For now, think ahead and don’t be caught unprepared.

It’s a good idea to have certain medications on hand when you come down with a cold.

At a minimum, I recommend having some diphenhydramine 25mg tablets or capsules, pseudoephedrine 30mg immediate release tablets and a nonprescription pain reliever – ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen.

I tend to pick individual products based on their pharmacology and the symptoms being treated.  Others prefer combination medications aimed at multiple cold symptoms.

Your community pharmacist is there to help you to be prepared or to choose your best option in respond to a cold. Pharmacists can also consult to help you decide if you should wait or seek more immediate care. Take good care of yourself.


Dr. Peter J. Rice

About Dr. Peter J. Rice

Dr. Peter J. Rice is a professor of Pharmacology emeritus at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine and Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. --------------------------------------------------------------------------He received his BS in pharmacy from Northeastern University, PhD in pharmacology from the Ohio State University and PharmD from the University of Kentucky. He is a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and practices in the ambulatory care and community pharmacy settings. Professor Rice is the author of Understanding Drug Action: An introduction to pharmacology (APhA, 2014) and is a fellow of the American Pharmacists Association. --------------------------He welcomes interesting medication questions and suggestions for future columns.
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