Surviving cold and flu season: How to stay safe

The National Institutes of Health predict this year's flu season could be a rough one. 

Last year, Americans reportedly spent nearly $6 billion on remedies for runny noses and sore throats, but some over-the-counter medications carry their own risks. High doses of acetaminophen send nearly 60,000 people to the emergency room each year. 

In its January issue, Consumer Reports looks at how to survive this cold and flu season more easily.

Lisa Gill, deputy content editor for the magazine, joined "CBS This Morning" to discuss some of the treatment options you'll find at the pharmacy, common home remedies, and which ones you need to be careful when using.

"We did this report because we found in a national survey and also secret shoppers that we sent out across the country to pharmacies, there are too many products and what's [in] those products is very confusing, and chief among them is acetaminophen," Gill said. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and is also found in hundreds of other drugstore products.

"It's a really safe drug when you take it in the maximum daily dose that the FDA tells us – 4,000 milligrams. But the surprising thing about it is just a little more than that and it starts to put you at risk for liver toxicity," Gill said. 

People sometimes overdose by accident when they take several different medicines that each contain acetaminophen.

Other common drugs to be careful with are oxymetazoline, a common nasal spray that can make your congestion worse after three days of use, and allergy medications.

"Lots of people use allergy medications like cetirizine, diphenhydramine, fexofenadine, loratadine to treat runny nose and cough from a cold but research tells us they with will not work for that. They work really well for seasonal allergies but not colds," Gill said. 

In addition to common medications found at the pharmacy, Consumer Reports looked into home remedies as well.

"We were happy and surprised to find out chicken soup does double duty," she said.

According to Gill, the soup has an anti-inflammatory effect, which can help with body aches, and the warm liquid helps ease congestion and sore throat.

She also endorsed a few other natural remedies, including gargling with warm saltwater to ease a sore throat, nasal rinsing with a neti pot or spray, and honey — either by the spoonful or mixed into a hot drink — to soothe a cough. (Just don't give honey to children under 1 year old; it's not safe for a baby's digestive system.)

Gill cautioned against loading up on vitamin C. 

"So much vitamin C puts you at risk for kidney stones which are really, really painful. Vitamin C, the evidence shows us it might reduce the duration of the cold, but our suggestion is to get vitamin C through your diet, leafy greens and citrus, and skip the supplements."