Efficacy and safety of over-the-counter analgesics in the treatment of common cold and flu

J Clin Pharm Ther. 2006 Aug;31(4):309-19. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2710.2006.00754.x.


Rationale: Common cold and flu are the most common human illnesses, and over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics are widely used to treat the pain and fever symptoms. Despite the every day use of these analgesic there is little information available in the literature on the efficacy and safety of these medicines in treating colds and flu symptoms. The aim of this review was to determine the safety and efficacy of the analgesics, aspirin, paracetamol and aspirin for the treatment of colds and flu.

Methods: Electronic databases and a personal database were searched and the information retrieved together with information from relevant textbooks has been integrated in the review.

Results: The literature search established that there is relatively little information on the use of analgesics in treating colds and flu and that much of the safety and efficacy data must be related to other pain and fever models. The review establishes that aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe in OTC doses and that there is no evidence for any difference between the medicines as regards efficacy and safety for treatment of colds and flu (except in certain cases such as the use of aspirin in feverish children). There is also no evidence that these medicines prolong the course of colds and flu by any effect on the immune system or by reducing fever.

Conclusion: Despite the lack of clinical data on the safety and efficacy of analgesics for the treatment of colds and flu symptoms a case can be made that these medicines are safe and effective for treatment of these common illnesses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Aspirin / adverse effects
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Common Cold / drug therapy*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Fever / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen / therapeutic use*
  • Infant
  • Influenza, Human / drug therapy*
  • Nonprescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Pain / drug therapy


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen