Drug Testing While On Cold Medications

Sudafed false positive drug test

It’s that time of year again when the temperatures cool down in the northern hemisphere. As we leave the heat of summer behind us for this year, it is welcomed with open arms by some who appreciate the changes that are brought by the natural adjustment. Many are inspired to spend extra time outdoors because it’s more comfortable and they enjoy being surrounded by the transition of colors that Mother Nature provides during the changing of the seasons.

However, not everyone can get into the excitement of the cooler season, some for good reasons too. Unfortunately, cooler temps don’t always mean better health. In fact, you may notice that some people are suffering from nasal congestion due to cold symptoms, hay fever, or other upper respiratory allergy symptoms during this season. Those of us who have this problem are often coaxed into taking medication to relieve the ailment. Personally, I don’t like taking anything that’s going to make me drowsy, especially if I am heading to work. In my experience, feeling drowsy makes a long day go by slower. However, there are many who still enjoy the symptom dampening effects of these medications. If you have an upcoming drug test though, you may be worried that the medication you took to feel better may cause that test to come back positive. Here, we will explore many of the most common cold medications, whether or not they may cause a false positive, and how to avoid those potential outcomes.

Can Cold Medications Cause False Positives on a Drug Test?

In short, yes. It is possible for cold medications to cause false positives on a drug test. While it’s obvious you don’t want to fail a drug test, even those who don’t do drugs still have a chance of not passing it simply by having normal everyday medicine in their body.

Staying up to date on which “over the counter” (OTC) products can be taken when helps significantly when it’s time for a drug test. Knowing what not to take (or what you took) before the drug test will help you skip over any chances of getting a false positive.

How to Avoid False Positives While Taking Cold Meds

It’s a good idea to inform your administrator or employer prior to taking the test so they can rule out the false positives if any (depending on their cutoff levels). If the amount of medication is below the cutoff levels, they most likely won’t even be an issue. However, should you fail, ask them if they would do a confirmation test. According to the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, there are error rates of 5 to 14 percent on the initial tests due to non-prescription medications.

While none of the products we will mention below are inherently “bad”, some of the ingredients used in the making of these products can prevent you from passing your drug test. We highly advise you to consult with your physician before taking any medications and always stay within the recommended dosage within the recommended time period.

Cold Medications That May Cause False Positive Drug Tests

Advil contains Ibuprofen which may cause false positives for marijuana. If you take more than the recommended dose per instructions or your doctor, it might send up a red flag.

Bayer Select Maximum Strength Sinus Pain Relief Caplets have been known to cause false positives for amphetamines. Its sister product, Bayer Select Pain Relief Formula, could cause false positives for marijuana if you were to take the iScreen Marijuana Single Panel drug test.

Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) has a common antihistamine that happens to cause some drowsiness and possibly a false positive for benzodiazepines or PCP. However, a confirmation test would prove your innocence if your administrator or employer has any doubts.

Claritin has the active ingredients of loratadine and pseudoephedrine sulfate which may potentially cause the test show false positives for morphine, methamphetamines, or ecstasy if you take more than the recommended dosage. However, there is still some debate regarding this potential.

Sudafed products, such as Mucinex DM contains two key ingredients: dextromethorphan and guaifenesin. Dextromethorphan can potentially cause you to get a false positive for heroin, opiates, and morphine on a drug test. Guaifenesin is an expectorant that helps thin and loosens mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough up the mucus. Mucinex-D extended-release tablets contain a combination of guaifenesin and pseudoephedrine (commonly referred to as Sudafed). This is a stimulant that decongests stuffy noses and sinuses by constricting the blood vessels. Unfortunately, it can cause a Sudafed false positive drug test that could show up as an amphetamine.

Nasal Sprays (Vicks inhaler, Afrin) on the market today can cause false positives for amphetamines or ecstasy. Again, tell your administrator before you take the drug test to avoid possible confusion.

Tavist D consists of multiple generic medications including phenylpropanolamine making it possible to test positive for methamphetamine or ecstasy on a drug test like the iCup Drug Screen 13 panel we have available on our website.

Tylenol (Acetaminophen) with Codeine, without a doubt, shows up positive for Codeine. However, Tylenol 3 and Tylenol 4 can both show up as opiates while Tylenol Cold has shown to cause false positives for amphetamines. Another interesting fact is that if you take Tylenol Simply Sleeps before taking a drug test, you could show positive for PCP because of the diphenhydramine. Finally, Tylenol Sinus along with Tylenol Sinus Gel Caps Maximum Strength may show up as false positives for amphetamines.

Vicks Inhaler’s (found over the counter) is designed to relieve nasal congestion along with allergies. While they are generally regarded as safe to use, there is an ingredient, called L-Methamphetamine, which may result in positive for methamphetamine use on a drug test. With that being said, Vicks Nasal Spray can also cause false positives for methamphetamine or ecstasy. Vicks Cough Syrup and Vicks Formula 44M are both very useful but could cause false positives for opiates. Vicks Nyquil contains pseudoephedrine which can show positive as an amphetamine.

What About Cough Syrups and Alcohol?

One more thing to be concerned about if you take cough syrup of any kind: most liquid medicines that prevent coughing will contain a limited amount of alcohol. If you get tested for alcohol, it could show up depending on the time between you taking the medicine and the drug screen. Alcohol is often a major component of cough syrups and other OTC medications, so it may be a good idea to keep aware of how much alcohol your medications actually do contain. Unfortunately, the laws against driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) cannot distinguish between blood alcohol content (BAC) that comes from drinking alcoholic beverages or from medications. It’s all the same to an Alco-Screen 02 test and in the eyes of the law.

Alcohol Percentages of Commonly Used OTC Cold Medicines

Benedryl – 14.0%Benedryl Decongestant – 5.0%Benylin – 5.0%Benylin DM – 5.0%

Expectorant – 4.7%

Codimal DM – 4.0%

Coltrex – 4.5%

Coltrex Expectorant – 4.7%

Contact Severe Cold – 25.0%

Contrex – 20.0%

Daycare – 10.0%

Dimetapp – 2.3%

Dimetane Decongestant – 2.3%

Dr. Drake’s – 2.3%

Dristan Cough – 12.0%

Dristan Ultra – 25.0%

Endotussin NN – 4.0%

Formula 44 Cough – 10.0%

Formula 44 D – 20.0%


Halls – 22.0%Head & Chest – 5.0%Mercodol w/ Decaprin – 5.0%Night Relief – 25.0%

Nortussin – 3.5%

Nyquil – 10.0%

Quiet Nite – 25.0%

Robitussin – 3.5

Robitussin AC – 3.5%

Robitussin CF – 1.4%

Robitussin DAC – 1.4%

Robitussin DM – 1.4%

Robitussin PE – 1.4%

Sudafed Cough Syrup – 2.4%

Tolu-Sed – 10.0%

Tolu-Sed DM – 10.0%

Vicks Cough – 5.0%


If you prefer, ask your pharmacist or physician about alcohol-free cough medicine as an alternative. They will be able to provide you with more detailed information and suggestions. For your convenience, we have listed some of the most common non-alcoholic cough medicines.

Non-Alcoholic Cough Medicines

ActifedActifed-CAlupent SyrupChloraseptic



Efficol Cough

Hycodan Syrup

Hycomine Syrup



Naldecon Syrup

Naldecon DX Adult




Sudafed Plus

Triaminic DM

Triaminic Cough and Cold



Vistaril Suspension



We can’t stress enough how important it is that you keep a record of any medications that may affect your next drug screen. I suggest that you write a list of any medications you are taking prior to providing a sample specimen. That list may serve as a useful reminder should an explanation be required. However, if you need verification, be sure to ask for confirmation by Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). This test is more expensive, and you may have to pay for it yourself, but it will confirm or dispute false positives with extreme accuracy.

Rapid Detect: America’s Choice for Quality, Low-Cost Drug Testing Supplies

As colder seasons approach, it will be tempting to take just about any medication that will clear up our sinuses and lungs. While there are many products that work in moderation, these medicines can add up quickly and we can overdo it if we aren’t careful.

At Rapid Detect, we provide employers with a quality drug test and screening products that can give them an edge in the industry. We are always ready to help you with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have regarding your drug testing procedures, products, or best practices. Please do not hesitate to contact our team today for more information!







2 thoughts on “Drug Testing While On Cold Medications

  1. Carol O'Brien says:

    I have to take a drug test every three months because I take vyvanse . I know the cut off is 1000 and mine showed up as 4000. But I had also been taking a lot of Advil cold and sinus and I had also been taking adipex . Could that have caused my cut off to be so high ?

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