The 8 Best OTC Flu Meds of 2020

Ease symptoms with these top-rated picks

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First Look

Best Overall: NyQuil and DayQuil SEVERE Caplets with Vicks VapoCool at Amazon

"Both caplets contain similar ingredients, like a decongestant to unclog your nose and an expectorant to loosen up the mucus in your chest and relieve coughs."

Best for Sinus Pain: Vicks Sinex Severe Sinus Pressure & Pain Non-Drowsy LiquiCaps at Amazon

"The all-in-one sinus relief is said to work in as little as 30 minutes, so there’s no need to sit around waiting for it to kick in."

Best Drink Mix: Theraflu Multi-Symptom Severe Cold Relief Medicine at Amazon

"The powders pair nicely with hot water to serve a warm, comforting morning or evening drink."

Best for Night: GoodSense NightTime Cold and Flu Relief at Amazon

"This cherry-flavored liquid attacks both by combining the work of a pain reliever, fever reducer, cough suppressant, and antihistamine."

Best for Kids: Children’s Tylenol at Amazon

"If your child’s symptoms include pain and fever, acetaminophen like Tylenol is a tried-and-true method."

Best Tasting: Theraflu PowerPods Daytime Severe Cold at Amazon

"The pods have the active ingredient of acetaminophen to ease pain and fever, Dextromethorphan to suppress your cough, and phenylephrine for nasal decongestion."

Best for Cough: Robitussin Cough and Chest Congestion DM Liquid-Filled Capsules at Amazon

"Dextromethorphan is always trusted when it comes to gaining control over a cough."

Best for Day: Mucinex Fast-Max Max Strength, Cold, Flu, & Sore Throat Liquid Gels at Amazon

"Mucinex Fast-Max Max Strength can take away your sore throat, stuffy nose, and fever in a single dose ."

Heading to the drug store to pick up cold and flu medicine seems like a simple enough task, but your symptoms could just get worse before you figure out which of the hundreds of options in the medicine aisle is right for you. 

Before starting your quest for the best medicine, you must first understand the difference between the flu, the common cold, and allergies. Errol McKenzie, M.D., founder of Family Medicine Associates of Fayetteville, says a lot of patients tend to misinterpret symptoms, so it’s important to make sure you get tested for the flu within the first 24 to 48 hours. If you’re positive, then your doctor can prescribe you antivirals to shorten the course of your flu or improve some of your symptoms. 

If you test negative and your flu-like symptoms continue, consult with your doctor on the best next steps. If your symptoms align with the flu and involve joint aches, respiratory issues, and a fever, then you can make your way to your local drugstore. Just remember to keep in mind your personal medical history as you browse the medicine aisle. “If you have hypertension, asthma, cardiovascular disease, allergies, or eczema, you have to make sure that the ingredients in these over the counter medications don't destabilize your existing medical condition,” explains Dr. McKenzie. 

Even if you’re tempted to go with a familiar brand, carefully read through the box for warnings and ingredients. “Make sure you're not allergic to anything in it and that there are no sedative effects because if there are, driving can be prohibitive under those circumstances,” warns Dr. McKenzie. 

If your flu symptoms won't let up, here are some of the most trusted over-the-counter flu medicines to have on hand.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: NyQuil and DayQuil SEVERE Caplets with Vicks VapoCool

Flu symptoms can be relentless, from the moment you wake to the moment you hit the bed. That’s why the DayQuil and NyQuil SEVERE combo pack is a trusted friend of those sick with flu-like symptoms; it doubles down on what’s hurting the most, whether that’s your head due to a fever or your throat due to a cough. 

You can begin your morning with the DayQuil caplets without fear of drowsiness setting in during a busy workday. Then you can turn to NyQuil when you’re ready for bed and allow the antihistamine components of the caplet to ease you into a nice stupor. Aside from the antihistamine, both types of caplets contain similar ingredients, like a decongestant to unclog your nose and an expectorant to loosen up the mucus in your chest and relieve coughs.

DayQuil uses active ingredients acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, guaifenesin, and phenylephrine while NyQuil uses acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine succinate, and phenylephrine.

Best for Sinus Pain: Vicks Sinex Severe Sinus Pressure & Pain Non-Drowsy LiquiCaps

Vicks’ goal is to relieve pain from sinus congestion so people can “breathe freely fast.” The all-in-one sinus relief is said to work in as little as 30 minutes, so there’s no need to sit around waiting for it to kick in. The liquicaps utilize active ingredients such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and the nasal decongestant phenylephrine to relieve even the worst stuffiness. 

Best Drink Mix: Theraflu Multi-Symptom Severe Cold Relief Medicine

Even if taking pills or sipping on liquid medicine isn’t your thing, you might still have some apprehension around turning to dissolvable medicine. When it comes to Theraflu Multi-Symptom Severe Cold Relief powder packets, taste should not be an issue. The tea-infused powder comes in a delicious green tea & honey lemon flavor for the multi-symptom severe cold packets. Theraflu also has a nighttime version that comes in a honey lemon flavor, which is also infused with chamomile

The powder pair nicely with hot water to serve a warm, comforting drink that mitigates flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, congestion, fever, and body aches. Theraflu uses active ingredients acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and phenylephrine.

Best for Night: GoodSense NightTime Cold and Flu Relief

GoodSense is one of those reliable medicines you can always turn to in a time of need. Whether you suspect you have a cold or the flu, this cherry-flavored liquid attacks both by combining the work of a pain reliever, fever reducer, cough suppressant, and antihistamine. With all these symptoms under control, sleep is close within reach. GoodSense contains three active ingredients: acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine succinate. 

Best for Kids: Children’s Tylenol

Before rushing to your local drugstore to pick up medicine for your child suffering from cold and flu symptoms, first, consult your pediatrician to confirm the best options. Drugstores have over 300 cold and flu products, and many are not suitable for children—especially for those under the age of six—so the key is to pay extra close attention to the label for dosage directions based on the age group. 

If your child’s symptoms include pain and fever, acetaminophen like Tylenol is a tried-and-true method. While medicine with a decongestant or cough suppressant can help reduce any leakage, it’s best to proceed with caution because those are known to act as cardiac stimulants.

Children’s Tylenol comes in a kid-friendly cherry flavor that coasts down your child’s throat and is free of ibuprofen, aspirin, and alcohol. 

Best Tasting: Theraflu PowerPods Daytime Severe Cold

Who needs medicine in a capsule when you can get it in a pod? TheraFlu manufactures one of the best non-drowsy medicines on the market, and now they've put that combination of ingredients in pod form. With a quick press of a button on your standard coffee pod machine, Theraflu can be released into your morning cup of coffee or tea for easy cold and flu symptom relief. The pods have the active ingredient of acetaminophen to ease pain and fever, Dextromethorphan to suppress your cough, and phenylephrine for nasal decongestion. Once you get this medicine in your system, you’ll actually be able to breathe in that lovely morning brew.

Best for Cough: Robitussin Cough and Chest Congestion DM Liquid-Filled Capsules

Dextromethorphan is always trusted when it comes to gaining control over a cough, which is why so many people rely on Robitussin. Along with guaifenesin, an expectorant that helps loosen mucus, this medicine releases congestion from your chest and makes it easier for you to move through the day without having to continuously pause to cough. 

Best for Day: Mucinex Fast-Max Max Strength, Cold, Flu, & Sore Throat Liquid Gels

Feeling under the weather is always an unpleasant feeling, but struggling with cold and flu symptoms in the middle of the day when you’re expected to work is the worst. Luckily, Mucinex Fast-Max Max Strength can take away your sore throat, stuffy nose, and fever in a single dose without taking away your energy. Its active ingredients include guaifenesin, dextromethorphan, and phenylephrine.

Final Verdict

While there are plenty of flu medicines on the market that can help relieve your symptoms quickly, NyQuil and DayQuil SEVERE Caplets are one of the best options for pain relief. With both a nighttime and daytime formula, you can feel like yourself throughout the work day while still getting a good night's sleep as you recover. If your little one is under the weather, turn to Children’s Tylenol for a safe dose of flu symptom relief that's suitable for children.

What to Look for in an OTC Flu Medicine

Doctor approval: Remember the importance of consulting your doctor first on your flu-symptoms. Together you can decide on the best over-the-counter medicine to tackle your aches and pains. If you're taking other prescription medications, let your doctor know so they can recommend a flu medication that's best for your specific needs.

Non-drowsy: Suffering from flu-like symptoms drains you of your energy enough, so do yourself a favor and seek out non-drowsy medicine so you can make it through the day without falling asleep. If your cough and congestion is robbing you of a good night's sleep, aim for a medication with antihistamines to help you fall and stay asleep.

Specific ingredients: Certain ingredients in flu medications tackle specific symptoms, so it’s important to know which ones are impacting you most. Acetaminophen relieves pain and fever, while dextromethorphan mitigates coughing. Phenylephrine breaks down nasal decongestion. 

Why Trust Verywell

Having been raised by two medical professionals, Amari Pollard understands the importance of health literacy. As a seasoned health writer, she is committed to producing well-researched and well-sourced product reviews to help people make informed medical decisions.

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  1. Farzam K, Faizy RM, Saadabadi A. Stimulants. In: StatPearls. Updated April 11, 2020.

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