What's the Difference Between Robitussin, Sudafed, and Mucinex?


Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics won’t do anything for a cold or the flu, since they’re caused by viruses and not bacteria. Your best bet is to just treat the symptoms and let it pass through your system. The best way to do that is to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. If that’s not proactive enough for you, cold medicine might be able to help.

There are three major categories of cold medicine: decongestants, cough suppressants, and expectorants. Some of the most popular brands combine two or more of these actions for multi-symptom relief. Look at the bottles before you buy; it’s important to know which mechanism may help your symptoms.

NOTE: If your cough lasts several weeks, you have a fever of 101°F or higher, you’re coughing up thick yellow or green phlegm (or blood), or you’re wheezing, it’s time to put down the Robitussin and call a doctor.


Decongestants work by reducing inflammation in your nose and airways, thus making it easier for you to breathe.

Good for: Stuffy nose and other congestion in the upper respiratory tract (your face and neck)

Won’t help with: Cough, runny nose

Watch out for: Do not take a decongestant for more than three days. If you do, you might experience a rebound effect, which can make you more congested than you were to begin with.


Cough suppressants work by shutting down your cough reflex. This may seem like a good thing, especially if you’ve been hacking for days, but coughing is your body’s way of trying to get rid of gross stuff in your chest and throat. There’s also very little evidence that cough suppressants actually work (although there’s also little evidence that they don’t work).

Good for: Possibly repressing coughs so you can sleep

Won’t help with: Nasal congestion, actually beating a cold

Watch out for: Many cough suppressants contain an additive called dextromethorphan (the “DM” in Robitussin DM) that can speed up your heart rate. If you’ve had any heart problems or high blood pressure, do not take these drugs before talking to your doctor.


It’s right there in the name: Expectorants help thin the gunk in your body so you can cough it up and spit it out. Drinking water can also help with this.

Good for: A chest full of phlegm

Not great for: Anybody working in close quarters—the results are going to be rather visceral

Watch out for: Like cough suppressants, there’s little evidence that expectorants actually help. Pay attention to your cough. If you feel like the medicine isn’t helping, there’s no reason to keep taking it.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows

We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants

In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]


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