Cold and Flu Medicines: What Do Thyroid Patients Need to Know?

Why Cough and Cold Medicines Have Warnings for Thyroid Patients

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Many packages of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines and decongestants say "Do not take if you have one of the following..." and then go on to list thyroid disease. You may wonder, then, if you can take these products for your cold or flu symptoms?

The reason for these warnings is first, the stimulant pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in some formulations of Sudafed and some cold and allergy medicines.

Stimulants can be dangerous to people with active hyperthyroidism as they can strain to an already over-taxed heart, or raise blood pressure: two symptoms that are common when the thyroid is overfunctioning due to Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism.  

Many cold and flu remedies contain other decongestants. These medications narrow your blood vessels and reduce nasal swelling as a way to help reduce stuffiness. But the narrowing can affect all of your blood vessels, raising your blood pressure, which is not recommended if you are hyperthyroid..

What About Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism—an underactive thyroid—is the far more common thyroid condition in the United States. If you are hypothyroid, can you take these types of medicines?

There is no official consensus, but generally, it is not recommended that people with any thyroid condition take products with pseudoephedrine or natural ephedra, ingredients that are sometimes found in cold remedies, as well as diet and weight loss over-the-counter supplements.

There are anecdotal reports of people with thyroid disease becoming overly sensitive to stimulants like caffeine, pseudoephedrine or ephedra.

As far as over-the-counter medicines, you might want to ask your doctor about using a product like Coricidin HBP, a cold remedy made specially without stimulating ingredients.

Thyroid patients should be able to safely take a pain reliever such as aspirin, acetominophen or ibuprofen to help with fever, aches, or sore throat. 

A saline—not decongestant—nasal spray can sometimes help relieve sinus congestion or a stuffy nose. 

You can also consider trying some of the natural suggestions described later in this article.

Alternatives, Vitamins and Supplements for Cold and Flu?

There are a number of alternative remedies that may help you can try to help with cold and flu.

Noted alternative practitioner Andrew Weil, MD suggests vitamin C, garlic, echinacea, and the herb astragalus—among other natural remedies—to help boost the immune system during flu season.

Some research has also found that ginseng may help reduced the incidence or duration of flu, cases of flu, and raise the activity rate of immune cells that fight infections.

When you're in the midst of the flu, besides plenty of rest, fluids, and good nutrition, there are some additional alternative medicine approaches that some experts recommend.



Some other natural approaches that may be helpful for cold and flu include the following:

  • Elderberry -- Elderberry apparently works by strengthening the cell membrane so a virus cannot penetrate it. It also appears to inhibit the enzyme that viruses use to weaken the membrane. About.com's Alternative Medicine site has more information on elderberry.
  • Vitamin C -- Though the recommended daily dosage of vitamin C is usually no higher than 100 mg/day, some experts believe that as much as 1 to 6 grams (1000 - 6000 mg) of vitamin C per day may may be helpful during illness, and in particular, help reduce the duration of a flu virus. The suggested dosage would be 1000 mg every 2 hours unless diarrhea or gas occurs.
  • Zinc Lozenges -- Over-the-counter zinc lozenges, if take at the onset of symptoms, may help reduce the effects of flu or a cold.
  • Oscillicoccinum -- This homeopathic treatment may help with flu symptoms, particularly when taken right away after the onset of symptoms.
  • Garlic - Garlic has natural antibiotic and antiviral properties, and some experts suggest a daily high allicin content garlic supplement which should begin during the first six hours of cold and flu symptoms.

  • Camu-camu - The Amazonian rainforest fruit, rich in vitamin C, may also help combat viruses.

Sources:

Weil, Andrew. "12 Cold-Weather Remedies," DrWeil.com 

Scaglione, F et.al. "Efficacy and safety of the standardised Ginseng extract G115 for potentiating vaccination against the influenza syndrome and protection against the common cold" Drugs Exp Clin Res 1996;22(6):338.

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