Winter months are the peak time for flus and colds. Pharmacy Intern Christina Arackal, currently on a rotation at Rx Outreach, spoke with us to briefly to share some common patient questions. 


Do over-the-counter (OTCs) cold medications cure my illness?

In short, no. In order to know if something has been cured, we must know the cause of it.

What causes a cold?

The common cold is caused by a virus, which is similar to the flu and even COVID-19. The difference is that the common cold can be caused by a number of different viruses that are less harmful to the average person than the flu or COVID-19. The common cold usually causes symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, and sneezing or coughing. OTC cold medications work in your body to relieve those symptoms that you might be experiencing from your cold; however, they do not cure the cold itself. For example, when you take a medication for your sore throat, that medication works to inhibit pain in your body, however it does not do any work to kill the virus. In other words, just because your symptoms improved, does not mean the virus that caused the symptom was killed.

Does it matter that the virus was not killed if I feel better?

Yes, it is great to hear that you are feeling better, but you are not out of the woods yet. The medicine is working, but you still can spread the virus. To protect your loved ones, be sure to wash your hands with soap often and do not share your food or drinks. Protect those around you by keeping your distance until you are feeling better (without the help of medication). It is important to remember that even if your doctor has you take some OTCs to help your symptoms, you are still contagious.

With that said, when should I self-treat/stop self-treating?

You should see a doctor if you experience more serious symptoms such as:

• Cough: thick yellow sputum or green phlegm, drenching night sweats, chest pain, shortness of breath, history or symptoms of long-term underlying disease associated with cough (COPD, asthma, heart failure), or a cough lasting 7 days with or without the help of over the counter medications.  

• Fever: children younger than 6 months of age with temperature greater than 101° F, children older than 6 months of age with temperature greater than 104 ° F, children with a history of fever, fever lasting 3 days or longer with or without over the counter medications, or an impaired immune system (cancer or HIV). For adults, a fever greater than 101.5 °F.

Finally, your local pharmacy is always a great resource to use if you ever have any questions related to your medications or health!  

Christina Arackal will graduate as a Doctor of Pharmacy in May from University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy (formerly St. Louis College of Pharmacy). Christina was raised in Georgia but born in Baltimore, which explains why she is a rabid Ravens fan! Rx Outreach is grateful for Christina’s love for the outpatient clinical pharmacy setting.