Your health: Do over-the-counter cold medicines work?

  • A new study shows that some over-the-counter cold medicines are no more effective than a placebo.

    A new study shows that some over-the-counter cold medicines are no more effective than a placebo. File photo

Posted11/22/2015 7:23 AM

Study: Do cold medicines work?

Cold and flu season will see millions of Americans sniffling their way through the drugstore aisles in search of something to help ease their misery.


We spend $8 billion a year on over-the-counter cold medicines, CBS News reports. But a recent study finds the active ingredient in many nasal decongestants commonly taken for colds is no more effective than a placebo.

The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, looked at the effectiveness of phenylephrine hydrochloride (PE HCl), widely used in over-the-counter treatments for nasal congestion.

The study involved 539 adults with symptoms of nasal congestion from seasonal allergies. Participants were given different doses of PE HCl or a placebo for seven days. The researchers found that when taken orally in FDA-approved doses of up to 40 mg every four hours, the drug proved no better than a sugar pill at relieving symptoms.

If you remember older versions of decongestants working better than what's on the shelf today, you're onto something.

"A lot of these medications used to use pseudoephedrine, a different chemical -- it's what's found in Sudafed, for example," said Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil, a clinical associate professor at NYU School of Medicine. That formulation was proven to be effective in previous studies.

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But pseudoephedrine was being abused by people who bought it in bulk to process into meth, so in 2005 a federal law was passed adding new restrictions on its sale. Those medicines are now held behind the counter, available in limited quantities only if you provide a valid ID and signature.

If you want to just grab a box of cold medicine off the shelf and go, it will be a version without pseudoephedrine.

"Instead, they've been using phenylephrine now in a lot of the over-the-counter decongestants," Nampiaparampil told CBS News. "The problem is, if it doesn't work as well, what's the point of people spending so much money on those medications and then still having the symptoms?"

Getting rid of 'turkey neck'

If as you age, you've noticed some slack skin and sagging below the chin, a "turkey wattle" so to speak, you are not alone.

"With advancing age, fat tends to redistribute throughout the face and neck," says facial plastic surgeon Dr. Edwin Williams, president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. "You tend to lose fat where you need it most, such as the cheeks, and gain fat in places where you may not want it, such as the jowls, chin and neck."

Traditionally plastic surgeons did procedures such as liposuction to remove unwanted fat, Williams said. New, non-invasive treatments are available and Williams said his group has seen a surge of both men and women asking about these procedures.

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