Should You Take Nyquil When You Have COVID-19?

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Verywell Health / Michela Buttignol

Key Takeaways

  • People who experience shortness of breath from COVID-19 should avoid Nyquil or other medications that can suppress the respiratory drive and induce drowsiness.
  • Nyquil might help reduce COVID-19 symptoms, but it's not meant to cure the virus.

The introduction of vaccines has reduced the severity of COVID-19. For people who have immunity against the virus, the illness may present symptoms that are similar to a cold or flu. Some might treat COVID-19 as a common cold and take medications such as Tylenol and Nyquil.

But one Twitter user wrote that someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and felt congested had died in her sleep after taking Nyquil.

The advice on whether you should take Nyquil for COVID-19 has been murky—some recommended the drug for alleviating symptoms, while others said to avoid it in case of further complications.

So should you take Nyquil when you have COVID-19? Is it safe?

The Risks of Taking Nyquil While You Have COVID

Taking Nyquil when you have shortness of breath may worsen your case of COVID-19, according to S. Thomas Yadegar, MD, medical director of the ICU at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center.

One of the main components of Nyquil is doxylamine succinate, a sedating antihistamine. It can treat nasal congestion, but it also induces drowsiness. Yadegar said for people who are struggling to breathe, "the last thing you want to do is sedate them."

“You don't want to suppress their respiratory drive. You don't want to suppress their cough. If they have secretions, you'd want those patients to cough the secretions and get that out of their pulmonary circuit," he said.

Older adults or people who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should also more cautious about using Nyquil or pain medications that can suppress breathing, he added.

When Is It Safe to Take Nyquil When You Have COVID?

For younger people without underlying conditions or breathing problems, Nyquil can reduce COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, nasal congestion, and runny nose. It can also help patients get a good night of sleep. But it's not meant to cure them of the virus.

"[Nyquil] is safe to use as long as the patient is not allergic to any of the components of the medication,” Yadegar said. “However, it's not a treatment for COVID, and that's vitally important for patients to understand. It's not treating the underlying disease.”

If you have difficulty breathing, the best next step is to seek medical care as soon as possible, and you should avoid over-the-counter medications until you're evaluated.

If you're at risk of severe COVID, your healthcare provider might prescribe Paxlovid, an antiviral drug designed to treat the disease.

“There's this misnomer that COVID has become a bad cold, but that's not the case,” Yadegar said. “Although the disease has become milder, and we're not seeing as many people develop respiratory failure and end up on ventilators in the ICU, it can still do a lot of damage."

What This Means For You

If you experience shortness of breath from COVID-19, you should not take over-the-counter medications like Nyquil, which can suppress the respiratory drive. Instead, seek medical care as soon as possible.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.