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OTC Cold and Flu Remedies? If You Have Hypertension, Choose Carefully.

December 12, 2023 Posted in: Blogs

Many popular over-the-counter (OTC) cold remedies contain ingredients that can raise your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, check out these safer alternatives to get relief this cold and flu season.

How Standard Cold Remedies Affect Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the force your blood places on the walls of blood vessels. High blood pressure (HBP), also called hypertension, occurs when the pressure in your blood vessels is consistently too high. Over time, HBP can damage the heart and coronary arteries. This can lead to a wide range of health problems, such as: 

  • Chest pain (angina)

  • Kidney damage

  • Heart disease

  • Heart failure

  • Stroke

  • Vision problems 

Standard decongestant medications—including nasal drops and sprays, pills, capsules, liquids, syrups and powdered drink mixes—contain ingredients that can increase blood pressure. This is because these medications work by shrinking swollen blood vessels in the nose, making it easier to breathe. However, it is harder for blood to pass through a narrowed blood vessel, which can cause blood pressure to increase.

Avoid Decongestants

If you have HBP, you need to carefully read the ingredients in over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medicines before use. Look for the words “decongestant-free” on the label. Avoid products listing a decongestant as an active ingredient, including:

  • Pseudoephedrine

  • Ephedrine

  • Phenylephrine

  • Naphazoline (nose drops, nasal sprays)

  • Oxymetazoline (nose drops, nasal sprays)

Choose the Right Pain Reliever

In addition to decongestants, many cold medicines contain pain relievers to treat fever, sore throat, headache or body aches. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen or naproxen sodium can increase blood pressure. Instead, take aspirin or acetaminophen.

Shun Sugar and Alcohol

OTC cold remedies may contain sugar and alcohol, both of which can increase blood pressure. Instead, choose sugar-free and alcohol-free versions of cold medicine, cough syrup, and throat lozenges. 

Cold Medicine Alternatives for HBP

Several newer OTC medications specially formulated for people with HBP are now available to treat cold and flu symptoms including congestion, runny nose, cough and body aches. These products contain HBP-safe ingredients such as:


More Ways to Care for a Cold

In addition to medications, there are plenty of safe home remedies you can try to ameliorate cold and flu symptoms. Plus, you can modify your home environment to make it a little more pleasant while you get through your winter illness. Here are a few suggestions to help make the sniffles easier to deal with.

  • At bedtime, elevate your head to help keep mucus flowing out of your nasal passages.

  • Drink plenty of fluids to help relieve congestion by thinning mucus. Water, juice, herbal teas or broth are good choices to help you stay hydrated. 

  • Get enough rest, which can help your body fight off the infection.

  • Soothe your throat by gargling with salt water, adding honey and lemon to your herbal tea, or using sugar-free throat lozenges (with or without menthol).

  • Try saline nasal sprays, another safe option to soothe nasal tissues and help improve drainage.

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air, which can help loosen congestion. Some humidifiers have a small compartment on top to add mentholated ointment.


While there’s no vaccine for a cold, you can help protect yourself from the flu before it hits by getting a flu shot.

Need to schedule a flu shot or other winter vaccinations? Schedule an appointment with a doctor at St. Luke’s Health.

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