Quick Guide to Over-the-Counter Medicines

Marissa Ferrazzo-Weller, DO

Quick Guide to Over-the-Counter Medicines

New York Primary Care Physician, Marissa Ferrazzo-Weller, DO of Pearl River Internal Medicine in Pearl River, New York, a member of Highland Medical PC.

With cold and flu season upon us, Pearl River Internal Medicine wants to arm you with the information to relieve your symptoms fast at the pharmacy. There are many combination relief meds on the market and their indications can be confusing. What if you don't have sniffling AND sneezing AND cough? What if the medicine you took doesn't actually address the symptom you need help with?

Colds and the flu are caused by a virus, as is over 50% of bronchitis, so antibiotics will not alleviate the cause or the symptoms. While we work with you to see if you need an antibiotic, you should absolutely have the tools to feel as comfortable as possible.


These medications are effective pain-relievers for headaches, body aches, joint pain and sore throats. They also bring down fevers, which is a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): Take sparingly if you have liver problems and call your doctor if you feel you need more than 2,000 mg in a day.
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin): These will increase your blood pressure and can stress your kidneys if taken consistently. They may irritate your stomach so you may want to take them with food.
  • Naproxen (Aleve): This may also irritate your stomach and can be taken with food.
  • Aspirin: This may also irritate your stomach and can be taken with food.


This is a very common ingredient in OTC combinations. It thins out secretions so that coughing and blowing your nose is more productive and you can clear your mucus. It is usually paired with decongestants but can be taken alone for reduction of sinus pressure and chest congestion. It is called an expectorant on packaging.


These medications are used for the inflammation and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat caused by environmental and seasonal allergies. They can also reduce coughing caused by the same issues and are used to treat some food allergies and hives.

  • 1st Generation: these cause more side effects, namely drowsiness. Try not to drive under the influence of these as they can be very sedating. This is the "PM" additive. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, ZzzQuil, Unisom), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) 
  • 2nd Generation: less likely to cause drowsiness, but can still occur. Use caution if driving. Cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratidine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allergra)


This is purely for cough and is present in combinations that have "DM".


These medications are powerful reducers of swelling in the sinuses, nose and chest. They increase blood pressure and should be avoided if you take medication for that. Constant use can produce a rebound effect, meaning your symptoms come back worse when you stop using the medications and the nasal spray versions can cause nosebleeds. They are present if the combination medication has a "D" at the end.

  • Phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Afrin)

It is important that our patients respect the use of over-the-counter formulations. They alter body chemistry and do have side effects and risks. Please call us for any questions and ALWAYS tell your doctor about over-the-counter and herbal supplement use. We recommend all patients receive a flu shot. Please contact us to schedule one today.