Tips for finding the right drugs to battle colds and coughs

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NEW YORK (CBS) Cold and flu season is hitting hard this year and trying to find some relief may be a challenge, especially when it comes to finding the right medicine to treat your symptoms.

Victoria Roldan is one of the millions of Americans this season who are packing doctors' offices in the throws of a nasty cold. "Sore throat, ear infection as always, coughing," Roldan said.

Navigating how to treat the cold, cough, and flu can be overwhelming. Dr. JD Zipkin at GoHealth Urgent Care in New York City recommends starting with a base of ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and pains, often found in multi-symptom over the counter cold remedies.

"They have a good mix of things and they just do a shotgun approach to treat a lot of symptoms at once," Dr. Zipkin said.

But he says the most effective nasal decongestants for anyone except children and older adults are behind the counter and contain pseudoephedrine. Steroid-based nasal sprays can loosen congestion while sinus rinses like neti pots and saline sprays may also help.

Dr. Zipkin also says that while cough suppressants may lessen a nagging dry cough, they aren't recommended.

"One of the biggest mistakes I see are patients who take the combination cough suppressants and expectorants. Trying to turn off their cough and help it along at the same time -- it doesn't really work," Dr. Zipkin said.

Roldan was diagnosed with a virus, so while cold medicines will help relieve her symptoms, she'll still have to ride out her cold for seven to 10 days.

Doctors say when it comes to herbal remedies and vitamin C, they may shorten symptoms slightly but aren't recommended. Also, children, pregnant or nursing women -- and those with high blood pressure -- should be extra careful when shopping for cold and cough medicine.