September 5


Antidepressants and Cold Meds: What You Need to Know

By Joshua Turner

September 5, 2023

If you take antidepressants to manage your mental health, you may wonder what cold medicine is safe when you feel under the weather. While many over-the-counter ones are considered safe for most people, there are some potential risks and side effects to be aware of when taking them with drugs for depression. Understanding how these medications interact can help you make the right decisions about your health.

When taking cold medicine with antidepressants, know that not all medications are created equal. Some may interact with certain prescribed medications, while others may be safe to take in moderation.

Learning more about the common cold meds on the market and their potential interactions with prescribed medications for depression can help you know which medications to take when feeling unwell.

Key Takeaways

  • Some cold remedies may interact with certain types of antidepressives, so it’s vital to understand how these interact.
  • Over-the-counter cold meds are generally safe for most people, but reading labels and taking medications as directed is essential.
  • If you’re unsure about what to take for your cold that is safe to take with your antidepressants, talk to your healthcare provider for guidance.

Understanding Cold Medicine and Antidepressants

Specific cold remedies can interact with antidepressants and cause unwanted side effects.

Before taking any cold medication, consult with your doctor or pharmacist. They can help you understand different medications’ potential risks and benefits and determine which ones are safe to take.

When taking prescribed medicines for depression, be mindful of serotonin syndrome. This potentially life-threatening condition can occur when drugs that increase serotonin levels in the brain are taken together. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include agitation, confusion, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure.

To avoid serotonin syndrome, don’t take cold meds with ingredients that increase serotonin levels, such as dextromethorphan, pseudoephedrine, and phenylephrine. Instead, look for ones with acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief and guaifenesin for coughing.

Read the labels carefully and follow the recommended dosages. Taking too much OTC or prescription meds, including cold medicine, can be dangerous and lead to serious side effects.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

As mentioned, one of the most severe risks is serotonin syndrome, which can occur when there is too much serotonin in the body. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Other potential side effects include drowsiness, sleeping difficulties, weight gain, and bleeding. Some people may also experience tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle spasms, or agitation.

Common Cold Medicines and Their Interactions

Some common cold remedies contain ingredients that can interact with prescribed meds for depression, leading to unwanted side effects or reduced effectiveness of either medication.

Dextromethorphan is a common ingredient found in cough suppressants. It can interact with certain antidepressives, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and can lead to serotonin syndrome. If you’re taking an MAOI, avoid drugs with dextromethorphan.

Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, can also cause unwanted effects when combined with drugs for depression. Pseudoephedrine can increase blood pressure and heart rate, which can be dangerous.


Cough suppressants and expectorants, such as guaifenesin, are generally considered safe for people taking medicines for depression.

Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in many cold medicines used to reduce fever and relieve pain. It’s generally considered safe for people taking antidepressives, but it’s vital to be aware of the maximum daily dose of acetaminophen to avoid liver damage.

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine to relieve runny nose and sneezing. It can also cause drowsiness, which can be dangerous when combined with certain drugs for depression.

Antidepressant Types and Their Interactions

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) commonly include medications like Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro. These are generally safe to take with most cold medicines.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are an older class that are not prescribed as frequently as SSRIs. TCAs can interact with drugs for colds that contain decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, and can cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are rarely prescribed due to their potential for dangerous interactions with other medications and foods. MAOIs can interact with cold medications that contain decongestants or cough suppressants and can cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure.

Over-The-Counter vs. Prescription Medications

OTC medications are available without a prescription, while prescription medications require a doctor’s approval.

Over-The-Counter meds are generally less expensive than prescription medications, making them more accessible to those on a budget. However, prescription medications may be less effective than OTC medications, especially when treating severe symptoms.

On the other hand, prescription medications are typically more potent and may provide more relief for severe cold symptoms. However, they also come with a higher cost and may require a doctor’s visit.

Safe Practices and Precautions

Always consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter cold medicine. They can help you determine which are safe to take and avoid.

Drinking plenty of water can help prevent dry mouth, a common side effect of many cold medications. Staying hydrated can also help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and rapid heart rate, which can occur when taking certain medicines for coughs and colds.

Keep in mind that alcohol can interact with some cold meds, causing adverse effects such as coordination issues, restlessness, and shivering. It can also worsen depression symptoms and anxiety, making it harder to manage your mental health.

Special Considerations

When taking cold medicine with antidepressants, there are special considerations to remember.

If you have COVID-19, avoid NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen. These may worsen the symptoms of COVID-19 and increase the risk of complications. Instead, consider using acetaminophen as a pain reliever and fever reducer.

For children, be cautious when giving them medicine for colds. Many contain ingredients that can harm children, such as pseudoephedrine. Always read the label and follow the dosage instructions carefully.

Decongestants can cause anxiety and difficulty sleeping, which will not be ideal for those with depression. While those with high blood pressure should avoid cold remedies with decongestants as these can raise your blood pressure. Instead, consider using a saline nasal spray or other non-medicated options to relieve congestion.


Be aware of any box warnings on the labels. These warnings indicate that the medication may have serious side effects or interactions with other medicines.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I take DayQuil with Prozac?

It is not recommended to take DayQuil with Prozac as it contains dextromethorphan, which can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome.

What cold medicine can I take with trazodone?

Some options that may be safe to use with trazodone include acetaminophen-based products like Tylenol Cold and Flu or products containing guaifenesin like Mucinex.

Can I take Mucinex with Prozac?

Mucinex contains guaifenesin, which is generally safe to take with Prozac.

What cold medicine can I take with Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin can interact with certain cold medicines, so it is vital to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter products.

Can I take Tylenol cold and flu with antidepressants?

You can, Tylenol Cold and Flu contains acetaminophen. However, it is not recommended because of the risks. It is best to consult your physician.

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