FOX43 Finds Out: Over the counter drugs: worth it or a waste of money?

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YORK, York County -- Coughing and sneezing are the glorious sounds of flu season.

If blowing your nose and coughing your lungs out don`t seem like the best way to spend your winter, Doctor Mark Goedecker with Wellspan Medical Group says you better boost your immune system.

"Eating right, your flu shot that's definitely an immune booster, doing simple things like getting enough sleep."

All things we`ve been hearing for years.

In our busy lives, it`s hard to enough sleep and eat right, which is why some of us turn to over the counter meds that claim to prevent sickness.

A popular choice is Zicam, which the maker says is "clinically proven to shorten colds when taken at the first sign, so you can go from pre-cold to no cold, faster."

However, some doctors say it won`t work.

"The nasal Zicam has actually caused some toxic effects. The FDA said don't take them because of that," said Dr. Goedecker.

Back in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration did put out a warning on certain Zicam nasal spray products, saying the zinc product was linked to loss of sense of smell.

Representatives for Zicam say the makers have since reformulated the drug, saying "The issue this that Zicam’s old nasal product has not existed for nearly 8 years, and even then, there never was any credible scientific evidence to support any claims that use caused a loss of sense of smell. However, listening to consumer concerns, the brand removed the product out of an abundance of caution, and reintroduced a reformulated nasal swab product last year, which does also have clinical data to support its efficacy. "

So, what about products like Emergenc-e and Airborne?

The little tablets that disintegrate in water and claim to boost your immune system when you`re around all those sick people?

Geodecker says, "They won't cure your symptoms. They probably won't make you feel any better and there are some side effects with them."

If experts say these over the counter medications don`t work,  why can they still be sold?

"They can say they're immune boosters and things like that, so they can get away with that."

Dr. Goedecker says drugs that claim to help your immune system are easy to get on shelves because that category really hasn`t been studied too much by the FDA.

The doctor still says sleep and washing your hands are your best bet to stay healthy.Even those methods aren`t foolproof.

Even those methods aren`t foolproof.

"If it's my kid who's sick or the person who sits right next to me in the cubicle, do I have a chance? Uh, not much."

Great, right?

Here`s why: the doctor says when someone near you is coughing or sneezing, likely even if they cover their mouths, those germs are traveling pretty far.

"Those little droplets, with all the virus are flying all over the place. They're going 10, 15, 20 feet!"

A bit of good news though.

There are some over the counter drugs that will make you feel better.

Things like Robitussin, Sudafed, Dayquil and Nyquil.

They can help your symptoms for a few hours to make the day more bearable.

Dr. Goedecker says they just won`t actually cure your illness.

"It's just taking symptomatic treatment. If you're having aches, pains, Tylenol, Ibeprofin, anything that can make you feel better to keep you functioning."

Pharmacist Courtney Kline at Minnich`s Pharmacy in York says plenty of people are shopping around the cold and cough aisle.

"People are buying a lot of Mucinex or Robitussin. I'm also seeing a lot of Nyquil/Dayquil like products."

Bottom line? Dr. Goedecker.

If symptoms last more than 10 days, doctors say it`s likely an infection and not just a virus.

In that case, go to the doctor.

Also, if you have flu-like symptoms like body aches and fevers, go to the doctor as soon as you can.

There are some medications, like Tamaflu, that can help you fight the flu.

In order for those to work, doctors say you need to start taking the meds within 48 hours of your first symptoms.

Oh and one last tip: if you`re getting a runny nose or sore throat, doctors advise you to avoid alcohol.