PTCB Test Prep Therapeutics

Cough and Cold Medicines to Know!

Jun 12th, 2020
cough and cold medicines

Facts About the Common Cold

Cough and cold medicines are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States. Pharmacy technicians provide essential counselling services to patients on what medicines will work best for their symptoms.

On the PTCB exam, students can expect MCQ questions on cough and cold medicines. Candidates should be able to identify the most common medicines and what they are used for. Students should also understand the nomenclature of the various drug classes – much of which we review below.

The typical symptoms of a cold include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Low fever
  • Fatigue

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

It is not a bacterial infection.

This means that antibiotics – which are antibacterial drugs – are ineffective against the common cold and only serve to increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics in the future. The common cold is caused by rhinoviruses which enter the body through the mouth, eyes, or nasal passages.

Children have the highest risk of developing colds – particularly those under the age of 6 years. Most people recover in 7-10 days, if not sooner. Whilst there is no cure for the condition, it can be treated.

A small minority of patients develop serious symptoms and may need to see a doctor and/or be hospitalized.

In adults, this may occur if:

  • The fever is higher than 101.3F (38.5 C)
  • Fever that lasts 5-days or longer
  • Fever that returns after a fever-free period
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Severe sore throat that causes breathing difficulties

Treatment Options

Some drugs are effective for just one symptom, whereas other drugs can address more than one symptom. A combination of medicines, therefore, may be needed to address the needs of the patient.

There are seven primary classes of cough and cold medicines you, as a pharmacy technician, need to know:

Medicine ClassFunction
Aid mucus removal from the airways, bronchi, and throat.
Improve nasal congestion in sinus infections.
Enhance mucus/phlegm production to make coughing easier.
Cough suppressants.
Antipyretic / analgesics
NSAIDs, ibuprofen
Relieve fever and pain.
Antihistamines Diphenhydramine
Reduce severity of allergic symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes.
They are also mild sedatives.
SyrupsSoothing hot drinks to ease irritation in the throat. They often contain honey or lemon.

Sample PTCB Practice Questions

On the pharmacy technician exam, students should expect questions on cough and cold medicines. Questions may relate to identifying the active ingredient of the most common cold medicines, or it may relate to identifying the purpose of a drug class.

For example – you could be asked the following questions:

Q. An antitussive drug is used to treat which of the following symptoms?

a. Fever

b. Cough

c. Nasal congestion

d. Pain

Q. What is the active ingredient of the medicine, Advil?

a. Acetaminophen

b. Codeine

c. Bromhexine

d. Ibuprofen

Q. Drugs that enhance mucus production to relieve coughing are known as?

a. Mucolytics

b. Antipyretics

c. Antitussives

d. Expectorants

Q. Which of these drugs is classified as an antihistamine?

a. Cetirizine

b. Bromhexine

c. Ambroxol

d. Dextromethorphan

Q. What is the active ingredient of Afrin Nasal?

a. Codeine

b. Chlorpheniramine

c. Oxymetazoline

d. Loratadine


Cough and cold medicines are among the most widely sold medicines in the United States. Pharmacy technicians are on the front line in helping patients manage their symptoms and to counsel patients on the OTC drugs available.

Technicians can make recommendations and, depending on the severity of symptoms of the patient, may need to consult with the pharmacist to determine the most optimum course of action.

Some patients may have severe symptoms – such as breathing difficulties and, if they have underlying respiratory conditions, they will need to be assessed by a physician.

If you are already a registered member of PTCB Test Prep, you have access to course units and practice questions on OTC medicine. If you are not yet a member, register now. Check back to our PTCB Test Prep blog soon for more great content to help you master your next pharmacy exam!