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Tips on the right OTC meds to treat various cold and flu symptoms

February 15, 2011 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News Source: PharmaSueAnn – 2.15.2011

37% of customers are never quite sure which cold medications to take for their symptoms. It’s a finding that doesn’t surprise the pharmacists. 

PharmaSueAnn says the most common complaints right now are “stuffy nose, headache, cough in the chest.” For the stuffy head and sinus pressure she recommends a decongestant. “The decongestant works on actually the blood vessels in your sinus passage” explains SueAnn, “there’s loads of blood vessels in there and it causes them to constrict which makes you feel less stuffy.” It also causes the mucus to drain.

On the opposite end, the runny nose and allergy-like symptoms SueAnn says to reach for an antihistamine. “The antihistamine would come in if you’re experiencing watery eyes like you would get with a cold or you’re sneezing a lot.”

An antihistamine can cause drowsiness, so it’s often found in nighttime cold relievers.

For a general pain reliever the advice is aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory as well, so SueAnn says it will also help relieve sinus pressure.

If it’s a cough bring you to the pharmacy aisle says SueAnn, “I would need to know what kind of cough you’re speaking of. Are you speaking of a rattling chest cough where you have phlegm coming out or is it just a dry annoying cough.” For the rattling cough she says to look for guafenisen on the label or cough expectorant. It helps to break up chest mucus. For the dry cough grab a cough suppressant.

And when using a multi-symptom reliever, be careful when taking additional meds warns SueAnn, “you don’t want to double up on your Tylenol because it could cause liver damage.”

And finally, when using products that contain zinc meant to shorten the duration or reduce severity, SueAnn says you need to take it at the first signs of the cold, if it’s taken too late “they’re just throwing their money away.”

Keep in mind, if you’re already on something like a blood thinner or arthritis meds check with your pharmacist when grabbing an over the counter remedy. SueAnn says it’s not safe to take ibuprofen with those types of drugs. And if you can’t kick the fever with an over the counter, it’s likely a bacterial infection that may need an antibiotic

Vitamins? Zinc? Soup? Everyone has a ‘cure’

November 02, 2010 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings Source: The Columbus Dispatch – October 31, 2010 – By Suzanne Hoholik

Ask 10 friends for tips on how to treat a cold or flu and you’ll probably get 10 different answers.

Some say Airborne works. Others choose Sudafed, Cold-EEZE or Mucinex. Then there are those who swear by vitamin C, echinacea or zinc.

And then, almost as an afterthought, people will remind you to drink lots of orange juice and eat hot soup.

“Unfortunately, you’re just going to be looking at controlling some of the symptoms,” said Jarrett Bauder, a pharmacist at UpTown Pharmacy in Westerville.

“You’re not going to be doing anything to speed up the healing process, just making yourself comfortable getting through that.”

Americans spent about $3.6 billion on over-the-counter medicines to fight colds, coughs and sore throats last year, said Mintel International, a market-research firm. On top of that, people pay millions more for prescription drugs to help them get through cold and flu season.

Dr. Diana Donati, a North Side primary-care physician, said colds spend “four days coming, four days here and four days going.”

She said it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking four to eight glasses of fluids — not caffeine — a day. This will thin nasal secretions, making it easier to get rid of them, she said.

“When I’m sick, I push the green tea; that works for me,” Donati said. “You just have to find what works for you.”

Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, an infectious-disease specialist at Riverside Methodist Hospital, said many over-the-counter cold remedies have a placebo effect.

“I could sell you a piece of candy and tell you this candy can improve your immune system and there are people who take these and feel better,” he said. “The best advice I can give people is, unless you have a compromised immune system, your own body will fight the virus and take care of it on its own.”

Gastaldo said the things that your parents preached — staying home, drinking fluids and resting — are still the best medicine.

People who are pregnant, have high blood pressure, have prostate symptoms, or take Ritalin or antidepressants should talk to their doctor before taking any cold medicines.

The flu is different and requires different treatment.

If you have the flu, your symptoms will be a fever of 103 to 104 degrees, a dry cough and “horrible joint pain,” Donati said.

She said prescription Tamiflu could shorten the time that you’re sick. She recommends lots of fluids and Tylenol or Advil every two hours to relieve the joint pain.

Relenza is another prescription medication that helps with flu symptoms, but it can cost $60 to $70 a course, Bauder said.

“If taken within that first 48 hours … they’re reporting a decrease of one to two days of the flu,” he said. “That could make a huge impact on you if you need those days or if you have a weak immune system.”

John Henry Hughes, an Ohio State University virologist, said prevention is the best course.

“We tend to pick up the viruses that cause cold and flu in our hands from the telephone, elevator button; and then we transfer them to our face,” Hughes said.

He preaches soap and water instead of hand sanitizer.

“These sanitizers work, (but) they’re not going to be 100 percent,” Hughes said. “Once in a while, you’ve got to wash your hands. You’re just moving crud and dirt on your hands, and eventually it will trap things.”

He hasn’t had a flu shot in 30 years and would prefer getting the flu so his immune system can build up a defense to it.

The one product Hughes likes is Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues. There are dots of detergent and citric acid on each tissue, he said. When you cough or sneeze into it, it kills cold and flu viruses so they can’t be spread as easily, he said.

Hughes said most people can handle a cold or the flu without spending money on remedies.

“The way I look at it, the symptoms we get with common colds and flu are not that bad compared to what we could get medically, like cancer,” he said.

“If you’re healthy, your body can handle it.”

Flexible spending gets more rigid

October 04, 2010 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News, Prescription Savings Source: Chicago Tribune | 10.1.2010 | By Gregory Karp

Beginning Jan. 1, you'll need a prescription to purchase over-the-counter drugs tax-free

If you have a health care flexible spending arrangement (FSA), commonly known as a flexible spending account, through your employer, it’s about to become less flexible.

The coming change means you might want to alter your FSA contribution during this year’s open-enrollment period for health benefits. New federal regulations that take effect Jan. 1 require a prescription for drugs and medications purchased with FSA money, limiting purchases you can make tax-free.

The same rules apply to health reimbursement arrangements (HRA), health savings accounts (HSA) and the less-common Archer medical savings accounts (MSA).

That means no more tax-free purchases of over-the-counter cold and flu medications, pain relievers and allergy meds without a prescription. The prohibition is part of the Affordable Care Act enacted in March.

The good news is the new rule pertains only to drugs and medicines. You can still buy over-the-counter medical supplies. So, besides such purchases as crutches, medical-testing kits and joint supports, you can still use FSA money for standard medicine cabinet stock, such as Band-Aids, contact lens solution and hearing-aid batteries. Some plans allow the purchase of suntan lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of more than 30 and even hand sanitizer. Big-ticket expenses such as eyeglasses and teeth braces are still allowed. And the new rule specifically exempts reimbursements for the cost of insulin, which you can still buy without a prescription.

If you have an FSA available through your employer, here’s what you need to know.

* FSAs are still a good deal. An FSA is a benefit typically offered by large employers to help workers defray medical costs not covered by insurance. You designate a yearly amount to contribute to the FSA. Your employer deducts a prorated amount from each paycheck before taxes. Whenever you pay for an approved medical item, you draw down on your fund of pledged contributions, often with a dedicated debit card.

The account allows you to save money by purchasing health care-related items with pretax money, essentially giving you a big discount. The problem with FSAs is they are “use it or lose it.” You must use the FSA money by the end of the calendar year, though many employers extend the deadline into the following year. Otherwise, you forfeit the balance. FSA money was typically used to pay for medical co-pays, deductibles and prescriptions. In 2003, the IRS loosened rules on what you could buy with FSA money, allowing over-the-counter medications and medical supplies. The new rule essentially reverses part of the 2003 change.

However, over-the-counter medicines aren’t a big part of FSA spending, on average. Only 9 percent of FSA reimbursement claims, and only 3 percent of FSA dollars, are for purchases of over-the-counter drugs and medicines, according to CBIZ, a professional-services company that processes 46,000 FSA claims per month. So, there are still plenty of tax-free purchases to make with an FSA, and literally hundreds of dollars to be saved for many households.

“I hope people continue to use their FSAs. They just have to be a little bit careful about the amount of their contribution,” said Melissa Labant, a tax manager at the American Institute of CPAs.

* Re-evaluate. During open enrollment this year for your company benefits covering 2011, take a critical look at how much money you should commit to your FSA, said Philip Noftsinger, president of the payroll-business unit of CBIZ. Many plans have online sites that allow you to see previous FSA purchases, he said. How much did you spend in 2010 and 2009 on over-the-counter drugs and medicines? If it’s a big dollar amount, you might want to reduce your 2011 pledge to your FSA, but most people should be fine leaving the contribution the same, Noftsinger said.

* Stock up. Smart FSA users know to stock up on medicines and supplies to exhaust their FSA fund every year. This year, use FSA money to stock up on over-the-counter drugs and medicines before Jan. 1. For example, if it’s a choice between stocking up on over-the-counter medications or paying a bill for kids’ braces that could be paid after Jan. 1, choose the meds, said Rob Wilson, president of outsourcing firm Employco USA, in Westmont, Ill., which helps small businesses set up employee-benefit plans like FSAs.

Even if your employer’s plan includes a grace period for FSA spending that spills into 2011, Jan. 1 is still the deadline for using FSA money to buy over-the-counter meds, the IRS says. Don’t worry if you aren’t reimbursed before New Year’s Day. You just have to make the purchase in calendar year 2010.

* Get a script. A minor loophole or workaround in the new rule is that you can still buy over-the-counter medications if they’re prescribed by your doctor. So, the advice is to become less shy about asking doc to whip out his prescription pad. If during an exam he says, “give the toddler Children’s Tylenol,” make him write a script so you can buy it with FSA money.

“It doesn’t cost anything extra to ask for a prescription, and then you can use your FSA,” Labant said.

However, buying over-the-counter medicines with FSA money will be more of a hassle. You’ll have to submit for reimbursement not only the receipt but the prescription, too, according to IRS rules. That’s more complicated than simply buying aspirin with your FSA debit card, often called a flex card.

“You’re probably not going through that effort for medications you keep in your house for the occasional headache or sunburn,” Noftsinger said.

Another change with health FSAs is coming in 2013. That’s when the government puts a $2,500 cap on money you can squirrel away in a health FSA, or half of what many companies allow you to put in today. Nearly 20 percent of FSA participants pledge more than that, CBIZ said.

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