Saturday, February 16, 2008

Frugal OTC medicine: single-symptom or multi-symptom?

I've been pretty sick for the past few days, which means I'm writing about one of the few vaguely personal-finance related topics on my mind-- those lovely drugs which ease my symptoms and help me get better.

Way back on Tuesday, I went to the drugstore to pick up some cough syrup. I'd been coughing since Sunday night, without any other symptoms, and so I was standing in the aisle, trying to decide what to get. Picking cheaper generics rather than paying extra for identical brand-name items was a given. But I wasn't sure what combination to get. Cough and congestion? Cough and cold? All I had was the cough, and since I don't like the idea of taking extra drugs for no reason, I picked one that was just a cough suppressant. (Cough drops weren't an option; I totally can't stand them.)

So of course by Wednesday morning I'd started to sniffle, by Wednesday night I had a hard time sleeping thanks to nasal congestion, and by Thursday I was shelling out a few bucks more for decongestants and regretting that I'd passed up the "cough and cold" formulas the first time around-- it would have been cheaper and saved me some discomfort.

What's your typical strategy for over-the-counter medicines? Do you buy multi-symptom drugs that treat a variety of symptoms which you may or may not have? Do you buy single-symptom medications for the symptom(s) you've got, and go back later if you need more? Do you buy lots of basic single-symptom drugs so you're prepared for anything? I guess it's probably less of an issue for folks with big families (or people who know they get sick a lot), since they can stock up on all sorts of things and know they'll probably use them before they expire.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I buy as little of that stuff as possible. I drink a lot of water and tea and try to sleep a lot. At night, if I'm coughing so much I can't get to sleep, I'll pop a vicodin. Not everyone has access to narcotics, but when I get prescriptions for pain meds for surgery or whatever, I stock pile them because nothing works better to stop a cough. And even then, I take them as little as possible because coughing can be a very important part of getting the virus out of your body.

Mainly, when I'm sick, I take some ibuprofen for pain (headache, bodyache, sore throat) and just live with the rest. I feel like it's a time to slow down and give myself a break. Plus, that otc cold stuff has all kinds of weird colors and preservatives in it.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

I'm another one that doesn't normally bother. I might take paracetomol (acetominophen) for a fever, but otherwise I just live with it. OTC medication don't make it go any quicker, and I don't like the taste.

Betsy Teutsch said...

I remember in consumer reports awhile back, they recommended buying the simplest drug for your symptom. You can't know at the beginning if it's going to develop into a multi-sympton illness, so no need to over-medicate yourself and overspend on unnecessary meds. Later on, you can add. Sounds like you used your usual good sense, here!
You might want to check to AirBorne, to take when you feel early symptoms. Some folks swear by it. Don't know if it's past any analytic muster, though.

FreeFallUp said...

I feel like as long as I don't overuse any OTC or prescription drug, they serve a good purpose. Sometimes I get terrible headaches, and Ibuprofen really helps ease the pain.

I think not overusing them is the key. Our bodies can build up an immunity to the drug and it will no longer work.

I agree, generics are the only way to go.


Anonymous said...

I prefer to buy single-symptom OTC medications.

For example, maybe there's some cold/flu medicine in the linen closet ... but that combo doesn't do me any good if all I needed that moment to was to unstuff my nose.

I do look for sales, coupons and rebates on our commonly used medication products.

Anonymous said...

My frugal approach is to skip that stuff altogether. I guess I've gotten so used to just being miserable when sick, that getting relief doesn't even cross my mind. I also don't buy them for my daughter either.

I'll go for natural remedies as needed -- such as honey for a recent sore throat -- and just push lots of rest and fluids until life improves. Thankfully, we never get sick, which is all the more reason to save the cash on meds that will rarely ever get used.