The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be largely inoperative because of the government shutdown and, as the Web site states, "the lapse in government funding," but here at the Houston Press, we've still got your back.
So sure, we can't with any medical authority tell you what this year's flu strains are like or what sort of vaccines are available this year, but we can help to ease your suffering should you neglect to heed all the government warnings about getting a flu shot and find yourself sick and in pain.
We've tested ten different varieties of throat lozenges and cough drops available at CVS to determine which taste the best and which are most likely to soothe your sore esophagus. Some of them are designed to alleviate minor tickles, while others are intended to suppress coughs and numb painful gullets. This ranking is based on both flavor and efficacy in mitigating our (not so sore) throats.
10. Chloraseptic Max ($4.99 for 15) NO NO NO NO NO. Maybe if I was dying, and someone told me that sucking on one of these until it dissolved and revealed its "soothing liquid center" was the only way I'd survive...then maybe I'd eat one of these. It tastes like the worst kind of herbal, menthol, "wild berry" medicine imaginable. And it's an incredibly off-putting shade of grayish purple.
Verdict: Would rather stay sick than use these.
9. Sucrets Complete ($5.79 for 18) The flavor listed on this tin is "vapor cherry," as if it's some sort of molecular gastronomy invention. In fact, they're designed to help relieve nasal stuffiness associated with a cough and sore throat with a big ol' dose of dyclonine hydrochloride. Yeah, I don't know what that is, either, but the tin says it's an oral anesthetic/analgesic. Fabulous. Unfortunately, these taste like that liquid cherry cough syrup your pediatrician used to prescribe and your mom had to coax down your throat with the promise of ice cream or a sticker. I would always swallow that cough syrup and drink something else really quickly to erase the taste. In no scenario do I want to let that flavor linger in my mouth until the hard lozenge dissolves.
Verdict: Would rather use a neti pot.
8. CVS Honey Lemon Cough Drops ($1.67 for 30) If you made me a cocktail with honey, lemon and mint in it (and how 'bout some gin?), I would probably love it and want another round. Somehow, though, in cough drop form, those flavors just don't work. Perhaps because these are CVS brand, or perhaps because the menthol is so strong I can feel it in my nose, but I just can't handle this little yellow nugget. Of course, according to the bag, it's intended to "cool nasal passages." Is burning the same as cooling? If so, well done!
Verdict: Would rather have in cocktail form.
7. Halls Intense Cool ($2.37 for 30) I appreciate that the Halls wrappers feature encouraging sayings like, "Impress yourself today," and "Buckle down and push forth." I do not appreciate that the Halls new Intense Cool drops with extra-strong menthol make me want to puke. I think part of the problem is that when I taste something labeled "menthol" I expect mint, when, in fact, mint and menthol are two different flavors. Menthol is derived from the mint or peppermint plant, but it differs structurally and has local-anesthetic qualities. I suppose this lozenge works, because even three minutes after I spat it out, my throat still felt cool. That said, I think it would probably work better if I could stand to leave it on my tongue longer.
Verdict: Would use in an emergency only.
6. Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops ($3.79 for 32) These are strange. They aren't individually wrapped and they're, well, softish. So you open the bag, and out fall a bunch of red oblong gummy candy-looking things. They taste like average cherry throat drops -- neither awful nor amazing -- but I didn't really feel as if they did anything to soothe my throat. They have the taste and effect of a stale red gummy bear. And I was put off by the fact that, though you're supposed to "dissolve one or two drops slowly in mouth," I just wanted to chew the damn things. I mean really, who sucks on gummy bears or gummy worms? It's instinctual to chew, I tell you. Instinctual!
Verdict: Would use if I ran out of gummy bears, but not for a sore throat.
5. Luden's Wild Cherry Throat Drops ($2.27 for 30) Hello, Luden's Wild Cherry throat drops! You are like a breath of fresh spring air in a sea of chemical menthol! Okay, so Luden's drops aren't really designed to do the exact same thing as similar drops containing menthol. The active ingredient is pectin, which is used as a demulcent, creating a thin film over the mucous membrane in your throat to soothe the pain. So where menthol helps numb a sore throat, pectin helps smooth over an irritated one. The Luden's Wild Cherry drops are great-tasting and effective for an annoying tickle, but they might not combat that nasty throat inflammation caused by the flu.
Verdict: Would use and pretend they're actually helping my throat.
4. Halls Breezers ($2.99 for 25) I'm a little sad that Halls Breezers don't contain any anesthetics or pain relievers or cough suppressants, because they taste so good. The Creamy Strawberry flavor ones actually taste like a strawberries-and-cream candy, but it seems that the lozenges are good only for coating an itchy throat, rather than killing the pain. The bag notes that they soothe everyday throat irritations, and it doesn't instruct you not to take a certain amount within a certain time period, which would put you at risk of overdosing. Nope, not an issue. So, really, these are pretty much candy that might make your throat less itchy.
Verdict: Would use for mild throat irritation/candy cravings.
3. Ricola Honey-Herb ($1.50 for 24) Ricola lozenges are herbal, as expected, but the honey adds a pleasant taste that I'm not used to from the Swiss purveyor of weird European remedies. The original natural herb variety was always a little too medicinal for me, and I ended up gagging, which never helped my throat. The honey and herb is a nice happy compromise between sickeningly sweet and overwhelmingly herbal. It contains an oral anesthetic and a cough suppressant, too, so chances are it might actually do you some good.
Verdict: Would use for sore throats and coughs and to get better at yodeling.
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2. Burt's Bees Natural Throat Drops ($2.57 for 20) I love everything Burt's Bees, not necessarily because they're great products, but because they're packaged so nicely and they taste and smell really good (I'm lookin' at you, grapefruit chapstick). I was honestly a bit surprised at how good the Burt's Bees throat drops taste, though, because as far as I know this is the only thing the company makes that's actually intended to be consumed. They have menthol in them, which in several other cases made me groan, but in this case works. Possibly because the Burt's Bees drops have only 2 mg of menthol per drop, while the Halls crazy extreme übermint ones have 15 mg. These also taste like real honey (and do I detect beeswax?), and the lemon is soothing and natural as opposed to tasting like a lemon drop you found between your sofa cushions. In fact, the first inactive ingredient listed is honey. No corn syrup or fake stuff here, folks!
Verdict: Would use for intended purposes, and would be happy about it.
1. Cepacol Sore Throat & Cough ($5.49 for 16) These mixed berry-flavored lozenges actually have dextromethorphan in them, which means that in addition to the benzocaine that acts as a pain reliever, they also have cough-suppressant qualities. They definitely have a bit of a minty flavor to them, which I've always thought doesn't pair great with wild berry, but these taste pretty good. I wouldn't say they taste like candy, but for medicine that will actually soothe a sore throat and help a cough, they ain't too bad. A box of 16 lozenges is a bit more expensive than the bags of drops that usually contain 25 to 30 lozenges, but hey, if they work, then it's worth it! And actually, though my throat wasn't really sore to begin with, I kind of think it feels a bit better now. Mmm.
Verdict: Not the best tasting, but would use because they aren't terrible, and they work.