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10 Best OTC Cold Medicines Tested & Compared

last updated Nov 20, 2018
You can easily catch a cold any time of year, not just winter. This is especially annoying for runners because it can affect and interrupt our training. Many people with a cold think that antibiotics are the way to go. That’s not necessarily true and it’s worth remembering that antibiotics can also have many unpleasant side effects. So what is a runner to do when you get a cold and want to stop it dead in its tracks without resorting to antibiotics? We recommend taking an over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicine.

These medicines provide pain relief, and most importantly for runners can help you continue training. We don’t recommend strenuous training when you have a cold since your body is weaker than usual and needs you to take good care of it, but these medicines can help you recover while continuing to run.

Most of the options on our list are designed to boost your immune system naturally, so your body actually fights off the sickness on its own. We’ve also added plenty of conventional medicines so you can make the right choice for you.

The question is, which are the best?
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By EJ Callanan:

We have updated our list with both conventional and all natural options. We have also conducted additional research to help you learn how best to choose the medicine that's best for you, and to use it safely. One of the newest options on the list is an all organic, non-GMO option from Genexa.

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Name
Rating
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1
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
97.8
Potency
98%
Side Effects
99%
Effectiveness
96%
Value
98%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
2
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96.5
Potency
98%
Side Effects
96%
Effectiveness
97%
Value
95%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
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The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
97
Potency
99%
Side Effects
98%
Effectiveness
96%
Value
95%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
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The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96
Potency
95%
Side Effects
97%
Effectiveness
97%
Value
95%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
5
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96.3
Potency
98%
Side Effects
96%
Effectiveness
97%
Value
94%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
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The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95.8
Potency
96%
Side Effects
97%
Effectiveness
96%
Value
94%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
7
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95.5
Potency
99%
Side Effects
94%
Effectiveness
95%
Value
94%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
8
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
91.8
Potency
92%
Side Effects
90%
Effectiveness
91%
Value
94%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
9
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
86.3
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Potency
90%
Side Effects
85%
Effectiveness
88%
Value
82%
10
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
88.8
Potency
96%
Side Effects
83%
Effectiveness
95%
Value
81%
Price Comparison Last Updated (11.12.18)
In Depth Review Top 10
  • OHCO Cold Snap Powder
  • Sambucol Tablets
  • Genexa Crush
  • Zicam Dissolving Tablets
  • Mucinex Day and Night Caplets
  • Tylenol Multi-Symptom Relief Caplets
  • Coricidin HBP
  • Theraflu Powder
  • EZC Pak
  • Vick’s DayQuil and NyQuil Severe
Table of contents
  • Criteria Used for Evaluation
  • Other Factors to Consider
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Sources

10 Best OTC Cold Medicines

1. OHCO Cold Snap Powder

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
97.8
OHCO Cold Snap Powder
Potency
98
Side Effects
99
Effectiveness
96
Value
98
best offer for today
Pros:

All natural

Great at stopping an oncoming cold

Actually improves your health and immune system, doesn’t just solve the core problem

A nice health supplement, if that’s your thing

Cons:

Might not resolve a really bad cold that has already fully set in

Topping the list is this herbal remedy, with 20 herbs derived from traditional Chinese herbal medicine. The OHCO Cold Snap Powder works by protecting and strengthening the immune system, effectively empowering and allowing your body to fight off sickness.

Read more

Effectiveness
With this one, you start with a small dose and increase as you see fit, which helpfully allows you to tailor the medicine to your needs without dosage restrictions. This works best for interrupting an oncoming cold, and it’s great at doing that. If you feel the sniffles coming on, have some of this and you’re cold really shouldn’t develop in the way that it otherwise would. It works very well for most users, so it’s a great option if you want something natural and effective.

Ingredients
Among other things, they include forsythia, ginseng, and mint, with 20 natural ingredients in all. These won’t solve just your cold problems, but will also boost your overall health!

Cost and Value
A great bargain option!

2. Sambucol Tablets

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96.5
Sambucol Tablets
Potency
98
Side Effects
96
Effectiveness
97
Value
95
best offer for today
Pros:

All natural

Work quickly

Cover a wide range of symptoms

Nice flavor

Great combination of ingredients

Cons:

Work best at the onset, rather than in the middle of, a cold

These tasty tablets have an elderberry flavor and provide fast relief from a whole host of symtoms related to illness. The Sambucol Tablets have a homeopathic formula with natural ingredients and are a very effective solution.

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Effectiveness
These are great at working quickly on your cold, and they’re another fantastic natural option. They’re best used at the onset of symptoms, but they also provide decent relief when things get nasty. They’ll get rid of sore throats, coughs, sneezes, runny noses, and more. A really effective product.

Ingredients
The ingredients here are all natural, and they combat a wide range of symptoms for a good fix. These include bryonia, sulphur and zinc. These also include vitamin C and dried elderberry extract.

Cost and Value
Slightly more expensive than others on this list, but only marginally so.

3. Genexa Crush

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
97
Genexa Crush
Potency
99
Side Effects
98
Effectiveness
96
Value
95
best offer for today
Pros:

The only solution certified both organic and non-GMO

Really effective

Shortens the illness while also providing immediate relief

Cons:

Not as well tested as others on this list

Genexa Crush is homeopathic, non-GMO and organic, and relieves all symptoms associated. It’s the only solution in the world to be certified both non-GMO and organic, so if these are concerns to you, then you’ve found your cold solution! They’re chewable and they taste good.

Read more

Effectiveness
Again, these are fantastic. They provide immediate relief while shortening the length of the illness overall, which is a great combination. It’s not going to completely blow away your cold in one fell swoop, but nothing will – and for an organic product, it works very well.

Ingredients
Loads of active ingredients including allium cepa, belladonna, and Bryonia alba. Inactive ingredients include acai berry flavor and a range of natural additions.

Cost and Value
Around average for this list.

4. Zicam Dissolving Tablets

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96
Zicam Dissolving Tablets
Potency
95
Side Effects
97
Effectiveness
97
Value
95
best offer for today
Pros:

Nice citrus flavor

Homeopathic

Natural

Work best at the first sign of a cold

Cons:

Don’t work too well once the cold has really set in

Only two active ingredients

Zicam Dissolving Tablets have a tasty citrus flavor and they’re homeopathic with natural ingredients. They’re best taken at the first sign of illness and the two active ingredients help to give your immune system a boost which helps prevent future bugs.

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Effectiveness
These don’t work too well once the illness has already set in, but they’re very good otherwise. A small number of users seem to find that these don’t work for them, but overall, they're a very good choice.

Ingredients
The two active ingredients are zincum aceticum and zincum gluconicum. Having only two active ingredients, these are a little different than the other solutions already listed here. If you’re looking for these specific ingredients, Zicam is a good choice. If you want something with more active ingredients, you might want to look elsewhere.

Cost and Value
Another average-priced offering.

5. Mucinex Day and Night Caplets

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96.3
Mucinex Day and Night Caplets
Potency
98
Side Effects
96
Effectiveness
97
Value
94
best offer for today
Pros:

Great at fighting an intense cold which has already set in

Relief both day and night

Relieves many symptoms

Allows for a restful sleep

Cons:

A little pricier than other options

If you want something natural, these aren’t for you.

Mucinex Day and Night Caplets work to fight really severe symptoms, so if you’re suffering from something major, these are a great option. They have both a night and day caplet which provides double relief, and they’re perhaps the best option on the list if you’re looking to hit a heavy cold once it’s already set in.

Read more

Effectiveness
If you want something to blast away an intense illness and an option that gives you protection both day and night, you really won’t find anything much better than this. The nighttime caplets help you to sleep through your symptoms, and the ingredients fight a massive range of symptoms including coughs, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and sore throat.

Ingredients
The main active ingredient here is acetaminophen to reduce pain, while others reduce the other symptoms of a cold. Unless you’re looking for a natural remedy, this might be your best option.

Cost
Marginally pricey, but well worth it.

6. Tylenol Multi-Symptom Relief Caplets

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95.8
Tylenol Multi-Symptom Relief Caplets
Potency
96
Side Effects
97
Effectiveness
96
Value
94
best offer for today
Pros:

Work very well even in the middle of an intense cold

Relieve many symptoms

A heavy duty affair

Cons:

If you’re not looking for something intense, these might not be for you

Can worsen tinnitus in sufferers from the condition

Tylenol Multi-Symptom Relief Caplets help to relieve cold symptoms that have already set in, so they’re another great option for when you’re in the middle of a horrible cold. They cover a wide range of symptoms and are drug-based, which may be good or bad depending on your taste. These have to be swallowed whole with water, and you shouldn’t take more than the recommended dose.

Read more

Effectiveness
Being a somewhat hardcore option, they do indeed work well. They are great at battling lots of symptoms, but they are, quite heavy duty, so they’re not a good option if you don’t want something too intense. They can amplify tinnitus in those who suffer from the condition, which might be of significance.

Ingredients
Active ingredients here include acetaminophen and dextromethorphan among others with many ingredients to help lighten your suffering.

Cost and Value
A good low-cost option given its' strength.

7. Coricidin HBP

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95.5
Coricidin HBP
Potency
99
Side Effects
94
Effectiveness
95
Value
94
best offer for today
Pros:

Doesn't make blood pressure rise

Works very fast

Cons:

Drowsiness may be one of the side effects

While doing our research, we encountered many different kinds of options but this one is exceptional. Many people, runners included, suffer from high blood pressure. Some OTC medicines could make your blood pressure rise. Well, definitely not with this product. Coricidin HBP is a medicine that relieves cold symptoms and it's dedicated to people with high blood pressure. Let's see the other features of this product.

Read more

Effectiveness
It provides very fast relief, even in just a few hours, and is great for cough relief. Fever and headache are also less prone and in general, you feel stronger. Runners said that while taking this product, they were able to do mild training. The medicine doesn't raise the blood pressure. High blood pressure is a common problem even for runners who don't suffer from it, and many medicines tend to raise blood pressure.

Ingredients
There are many ingredients in this product. Although it's natural, there are some less good ingredients. One of them is sugar. However most of the ingredients are very healthy for your body, and they help to provide the relief.

Cost and Value
Buying this is a great deal. It costs less than 10 dollars for a package. For one pill, it's about 50 cents. There are two quantity options- just one package or multiple packages, 16 capsules in each package. Again, the price is really attractive.

8. Theraflu Powder

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
91.8
Theraflu Powder
Potency
92
Side Effects
90
Effectiveness
91
Value
94
best offer for today
Pros:

Good for severe symptoms

Both relieves and cures

Nice flavor

The drink itself is quite comforting

Good in particular at fighting congestion

Cons:

A little pricey

Not as popular as some other options here

Theraflu Powder is another option for severe sickness and coughs, so if you want an intense hit of medicinal help, it’s a decent choice. The powder dissolves in hot water, which in itself gives a nice relief while having a pleasant taste. The honey, lemon and chamomile flavor is nice and it gets to work on symptoms that are at their worst. If you want relief for mild symptoms, this is for you.

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Effectiveness
Helps you to sleep which is always good, and gets to work on intense symptoms. It helps to soothe symptoms as well as actually remedying them. The drink itself is pretty comforting too. It works fast and helps with lots of symptoms. It’s not the most effective on this list, but there are still plenty of good reasons to buy some!

Ingredients
Your three active ingredients are acetaminophen, diphenhydramine, and phenylephrine. It tastes pretty good too!

Cost and Value
A little pricey compared to most other options on this list, which is often the case with options that come in a powder form.

9. EZC Pak

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
86.3
EZC Pak
Potency
90
Side Effects
85
Effectiveness
88
Value
82
Pros:

Non-GMO and gluten-free

You feel much better within a couple of hours

Easy to swallow

Cons:

Expensive

We know that antibiotics do both bad and good things for our body. When you are sick, there's usually no need to take antibiotics as you can easily boost your immune system with something else. The good way to help you survive is trying EZC Pak. Check out more information about this product.

Read more

Effectiveness
This pack has a special formula and you need to take it for about 5 days to get the best results. It boosts your immune system and you can easily do mild workouts while your body fights off the cold. Users said that it doesn't take long to start feeling better.

Ingredients
An echinacea blend with vitamin C and zinc are the main ingredients of this product. There's about 250 mg of vitamin c, this is more than 4x the daily value. You can take this product with or without food. The capsules are suitable for vegetarians and there's no sugar added.

Cost and Value
This product is a little bit more expensive, it costs around 19 dollars for 28 capsules. When you buy it for the first time, you should buy the lowest amount in case it doesn't work for you. However, if it works well, you can buy more packages (and the price per capsule is lower).

10. Vick’s DayQuil and NyQuil Severe

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
88.8
Vick’s DayQuil and NyQuil Severe
Potency
96
Side Effects
83
Effectiveness
95
Value
81
best offer for today
Pros:

Works on an intense cold that’s already set in

Helps you to sleep, which is both comforting and useful

Good multi-faceted approach

Good if you want a hard-hitting solution

Cons:

Can cause drowsiness and other side effects

Be careful to take these as instructed

Vick's DayQuil and NyQuil Severe is another one with two pills: one for daytime and one for nighttime. This multi-faceted approach helps to soothe and remedy you on various levels and also helps you to sleep away your pain. These are best used for severe symptoms, and work best when you’re in the middle of your symptoms rather than at the onset.

Read more

Effectiveness
This works very well for the majority of users, but given its intensity, you have to follow the instructions properly, being careful not to take too much. They are quite strong and can cause dizziness and lethargy in some people, which isn’t ideal for a runner. However, this is only the case on some occasions. They’re very good at blasting away intense symptoms.

Ingredients
Quite a lot of active and inactive ingredients for a powerful hit, but with some drowsiness. The main ingredient here is acetaminophen.

Cost and Value
These are around average price for this list.

Criteria Used for Evaluation

Potency

Medicine or drugs that are not prescribed by a doctor or physician, but are sold at a local shop and drug stores are known as Over The Counter Medicines (OTC). Almost every household around the world has a cabinet or a safe place for keeping OTC medicines.

These medicines come in handy during smaller emergencies that may be handled, maintained and managed to normal levels before visiting the hospital or calling 911. These OTC drugs help users to be in control of the effects of the immediate external and internal environment of their bodies and ensure effective immune systems. These OTC medicines typically have usage instructions printed on the cover of the medicine itself.

Type of Allergy
People react differently to different medicines and drugs. This may be due to the composition of the ingredients within the medicine or the effect the medicine may have on the users. Also, note that some users may have an allergic reaction to only some of the ingredients that may be in the drug or medicine. It is therefore very important for the buyer or user to read the label to make sure they’re not allergic to any of the ingredients

Period of use/Time
Prolonged usage of over the counter medicine may, in the long run, have serious effects on the immune system. A user may end up abusing such medicines which can cause serious damage or even death. Such medicines should be taken in the correct dosage because they will be consumed for a longer period of time.

Side Effects

Side effects can be described as the negative and unexpected reactions the medicine produces. The side effects of OTC medicines should be an important thing to consider. When the composition of a non-prescribed drug contains a harmful substance to your body’s immune system, it is advisable that you look for an alternative or keep away from such medicines. Side effects may be dangerous or fatal.

Effectiveness

When buying any medicine you need to know how well it can function and how long will it take for you to notice any changes. This also depends on your immune system. Some people have a weak immune system while others have a strong one, so for weak immune systems you will need a much stronger medicine to work, but for someone who has a stronger immune system, it may not take long for the body to fight off the cold with just a little boost from the medicine. Some cold drugs are immediately effective while others tend to take time to start functioning. You should tell your physician what OTC medicines you’re taking and get their opinion and advice.

Value

In most cases, OTC medicines are less costly than ones prescribed by a doctor. Getting the right medicine for less than you would have spent in the hospital is one of the great things any sick person looks forward to, as it helps save a lot in the end. Just make sure you do not get fake drugs which might cause you more problems than you already have.

Other Factors to Consider

Materials

Over the counter, drugs can be a good or bad thing, depending on your intentions and use. There are factors that need to be considered when making the purchase and since these products are not really prescribed by a doctor, one may need some vital information about such medicines in order to have them at home. Make sure you buy them for the right reasons since abusing them can cause dangerous or even fatal. Below are some more reasons to help you get the right drugs.

You need to know what your system responds to and what it doesn’t. That means when going to get medicine over the counter you can tell which percentage of whatever element can favor you and which one cannot. Remember if you react to certain elements you need to make it known that even a small percentage of that should not be given as this can bring about worse effects on your system. You need to know each and every substance that will be present in the medicine you are taking.

Compatibility

You need to know the real reason for the cold since it might be more than just a cold and you can go get medicine that might not work at all or worst case scenario makes you even worse. Usually, people who take OTC medicine don’t go to the doctor, so they haven’t been tested to find out the exact cause of your cold. Before taking OTC medications you should know if you have just a cold or if it’s something else. Because of this, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to go to the doctor.

Use

There are rules to follow when taking any drug, and in most cases, they are written down. Even after you have purchased the drug, in order for it to be effective you need to adhere to the directions for taking them. Always be aware of the time difference in taking the drugs as you are given that for a reason and you need to pay great attention to that as it might be your ticket to feeling and getting better soon.

Frequently Asked Questions

q: Can you find these in all pharmacies?
a:

Not really. There are some drug stores that are very strict and do not sell medicine or drugs unless you have a prescription, so go to one that can give you the medicine you need without a prescription.

q: Is it okay to stop taking them as soon as I see change?
a:

Well, this is one of the things that many people do once they feel the cold leave. You think you are all good and you stop taking the medicine, which can result in having to take a stronger medicine the next time you have the same ailment.

q: Are prescriptions cheaper than what you can get without a prescription?
a:

In most cases, what you can get in a store without a prescription are often lower priced than the ones you get from a script a doctor writes you. You could spend a lot of time and money at the hospital to treat the same ailment you could have treated with drugs that do not require a prescription.

q: Which is better?
a:

One is not better than the other, it really depends on what you are dealing with that makes the difference. Those that are prescribed by a doctor often have many of the same ingredients found in what you can get easily at a pharmacy, just in smaller doses. But make sure to do your research, read labels, talk to your doctor or ask your pharmacist any questions, and be sure to follow the instructions. You can often get the same kind of medicine from OTC medicines as prescribed ones, just be sure to take the appropriate amount to lessen your risk of overdose.

q: If I have a really bad cold can I up the dosage to help me feel ok to run?
a:

Though these are not prescribed by a doctor but available over the counter through self-diagnosis, there are still important rules to follow. Each package will come with important guidelines on dosage amounts and how often it can be taken and these should be closely followed. It is not worth taking more than the prescribed amount and risking your health. These medications give relief by masking symptoms, too much masking would likely have a sedative type of effect and slow a person rather than give them a balanced feeling.

Sources

  1. Web MD, How to Choose Over-the-Counter Cold and Flu Meds, Health and Drugs.,
  2. Amanda Gardner, 20 Over-the-Counter Cold Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, Health, Jan 26, 2016
  3. LILA BATTIS, 17 Best Over-the-Counter Meds, Health and medicine, Jan 11, 2013
  4. C. Fookes, Over the Counter Cold Remedies: Which One is Right For You?, Drugs, Aug 07, 2017