Decoding Over-The-Counter Flu Meds

It's one of the worst flu seasons in years, but trying to figure out a good over-the-counter medicine to take can make your head spin. Consumer Reports helps you decode treatments for the flu and other ailments.

Choosing medicine for a cold, flu, and other aches and pains can be overwhelming!

Why is the drug aisle so confusing?

Dr. Marvin Lipman of Consumer Reports says, "The problem is labels like extra strength, maximum strength, or ultra strength really have no standard definition."

Take ultra-strength Tums. It has 100 percent more of its active ingredient than the regular version.

But Gas-X Ultra-strength has 125 percent more of its active ingredient.

Dr. Lipman says, "The point is you really have to read the label in order to know how much you're taking."

Claims like "all day" and "long acting" are tricky, too.

All-Day Aleve lasts up to 12 hours. But another all day-medicine lasts 24 hours.

And with drugs that promise to relieve multiple symptoms, like a cold, flu, and sort throat, you could end up taking something you don't need.

Dr. Lipman says, "Drugs that treat multiple symptoms often have more than one ingredient, sometimes as many as four."

So if you take another medicine that contains one of those ingredients, you might wind up taking too much.

Consumer Reports says best is choosing a single ingredient drug whenever you can, like ibuprofen for aches and pains...or acetaminophen for a fever or headache.

And when in doubt, check with a pharmacist for help understanding over-the-counter drug labels

Consumer Reports says drugs that say "PM" or "non-drowsy" can be confusing also. If the label says PM, it probably contains an antihistamine that'll help you fall asleep.

But if the label says 'non-drowsy," don't assume the drug will help you stay alert.

Only some have caffeine or another stimulant that'll keep you awake.

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