Over-the-counter medications to treat colds and flu may stop coughing and sneezing, but they don’t necessarily attack the underlying cause and destroy the virus.

This is one of the difficulties associated with self-medicating, according to Suzy Cohen R.Ph., author of “The 24-Hour Pharmacist,” because consumers are confused by all the cold and flu products they see on the drugstore shelves.

To decide which drugs are best for treating specific symptoms, Cohen recommends becoming good friends with the pharmacist. These “drugstore doctors,” as she calls them, can help find the product that is best suited for relieving cold and flu symptoms.

If a patient is taking prescribed medicines, they should have their pharmacist review what they’re planning to buy to avoid any possible drug interactions.

“There are 100,000 products, but most of them are just different combinations of 12 to 20 ingredients. This is very intimidating to the consumer,” says Cohen.

In spite of their shortcomings, there are some over-the-counter medications that Cohen does recommend:

— Claritin: This is an antihistamine that is taken once daily to dry up runny noses and stop sneezing, huffing and puffing. Cohen recommends it because it does not cause heavy sedation, so people can drive safely or focus on work while taking it.

— Benadryl: This could be an alternative choice to Claritin, but only if the person wants to sleep too, because it is extremely sedative.

— Cold EEZE Lozenges: This contains zinc, which has been clinically proven to safely and effectively reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms by 42 percent. It does this by increasing the production of T-lymphocytes, which defend the body, and by latching onto the rhinovirus and annihilating it, because taking zinc at the first sign of symptoms will reduce the severity of the cold by stopping the rhinovirus from replicating. Cohen liked this product so much that she decided to become its national spokesperson.

— Organix Cough & Sore Throat Lozenge (by the makers of Cold EEZE): This contains menthol, which is derived from peppermint oil, and suppresses coughs, along with pectin, which soothes a sore throat. This lozenge is zinc-free. Cohen likes this product, because it is the first and only certified organic brand on the market.

She had some other tips to help relieve cold and flu symptoms that were “outside the drug box”:

— Vitamin C replenishes collagen that is lost when mucus is expelled, and sweeps away free-radical chemicals that cause disease.

— Fresh garlic contains natural chemicals that protect against infection from bacteria, virus, fungus and protozoa.

— Green tea contains ingredients that squash free radicals that cause damage in the body, and revs up the immune system. Green tea contains an amino acid L-theanine, which is also calming and relaxing.

— A microwaveable heating pad can relieve chest pains associated with colds and flu.

— A humidifier thins the mucous and helps you breathe easier. It also moistens the air, which feels good if you are stuffed up, or if you are taking antihistamines, which can irritate and dry the nasal passages. Raising the bed or propping yourself up with pillows also helps you to breathe better.

— A light diet of carrot, celery, or apple juice, fresh water and steamed greens will help your immune system fight off the virus. That’s because half of your immune cells live in the gastrointestinal tract. If they aren’t busy digesting heavy meals, they can work on ridding the body of the virus.

You might be doing more harm than good if you choose to use an antibiotic, because it attacks bacteria. Colds and flu are caused by viruses, so might be doing more harm than good taking an antibiotic for a cold, according to Cohen, because it will attack the good bacteria in your body as well as the pathogenic.