It seems like every other person in your life is either sick or on the mend — or one of those people might very well be you. With so many different medications out there, it's difficult to know where to start when a cold, flu, or wicked cough comes on. And it's even more difficult to know which medicines can be taken together safely and for what symptoms, so we sought to understand the interaction between two relatively common ones: ibuprofen and guaifenesin, which is one of the main active ingredients in Robitussin DM, Robitussin Cough & Cold, Mucinex, and Mucinex DM. It turns out that the combo can help you get out of bed and back to feeling better. Take it from someone who had bronchitis this past Christmas — you'll want to know about this combo!
Ibuprofen and guaifenesin have very different purposes. The first is "an anti-inflammatory and antipyretic, so it's helpful for pain and muscle aches, and then also helps to control fever," explained Stephanie Long, MD, a family medicine physician at OneMedical and one of the district medical directors at the SoMA Clinic in San Francisco. Guaifenesin can help thin mucus and is used as a cough medicine that can assist with chest congestion and phlegm.
"You can definitely take them both together safely," Long said, adding that you should check with your doctor to make sure you do not have an allergy or health condition that would be a problem. If you have muscle aches, chills, or fever, taking ibuprofen regularly can help keep those symptoms away. Just make sure to eat and stay well hydrated, as ibuprofen can irritate the stomach.
Unfortunately, illnesses like the cold and flu are viral, so they can't be cured with an antibiotic. However, this drug combo can help keep symptoms at bay until the sickness has run its course. If you've tried taking ibuprofen or a guaifenesin-based drug and only experienced minimal relief, it could be beneficial to add on the second one to tackle more symptoms. "Because one helps out with symptoms related to fevers and pain related to sore throat and the other helps with symptoms of cough, the two medications can be a good combo to treat common symptoms of upper respiratory illnesses," said Brian Secemsky, MD, an internal medicine physician at OneMedical.
Out of ibuprofen? Ibuprofen is in the same class as Aleve (naproxen), so you can substitute one for the other. And as indicated earlier, Robitussin and Mucinex are both guaifenesin based, so you can swap one for the other. If symptoms are bad, you can add on Tylenol to the ibuprofen and guaifenesin combo, both Long and Secemsky said. Just make sure that you're not taking a multisymptom medication that already has Tylenol in it.
As always, talk to your doctor to make sure any medication is right for you, but as someone who spent Christmas trying not to cough on her family members, I wish I'd known about this combo sooner!