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Am Fam Physician. 2022;106(3):248-249

This clinical content conforms to AAFP criteria for CME.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial relationships.

Clinical Question

Are over-the-counter formulas containing antihistamines, analgesics, and/or decongestants effective in treating symptoms of the common cold?

Evidence-Based Answer

Antihistamine/analgesic/decongestant combinations have some general benefit in adults and older children. However, these benefits must be weighed against the risk of adverse effects. There is no evidence of effectiveness in young children.1 (Strength of Recommendation: B, inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence.)

Practice Pointers

The common cold is an umbrella term for a wide range of noninfluenza viral respiratory tract infections characterized by nasal congestion, rhinorrhea, cough, sore throat, and sneezing. Although symptoms typically self-resolve within one to two weeks, patients seeking treatment account for approximately 110 million physician visits and 23.2 million physician telephone calls in the United States each year.2 Although there is no cure, treatment options for cold symptoms are available, including combinations of analgesics for sore throat, decongestants for rhinorrhea, and antihistamines for coughing and sneezing. The authors of this review evaluated the effectiveness of these interventions.

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These are summaries of reviews from the Cochrane Library.

This series is coordinated by Corey D. Fogleman, MD, assistant medical editor.

A collection of Cochrane for Clinicians published in AFP is available at

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