Medically reviewed by, Russell Braun RPH
Getting the sniffles drives many people into the aisles of the pharmacy looking for relief. Does this sound like you, searching for a product to take care of your symptoms? There are so many options it can be overwhelming. You have heard vitamin C can cut the cold short. Is that really true, and if so which is better Airborne vs Emergen-C?
These products are both marketed as immune boosters. Products that help your natural immunity to fight off colds and viruses. We will look at the evidence for both Airborne and Emergen-C to determine if they are really worth your hard earned cash.
How can I boost up my immune system?
Several chemicals and natural remedies are sold to the public as immune boosters. However, only a few of them actually have clinical trial evidence that shows they may have some benefits. These vitamins and minerals include:
1. Vitamin A
Long known for positive effects on vision, vitamin A is also important to your immune system function. In particular it controls signaling of immune response. It has also been shown to prevent the first steps in bacterial entrance into the cells on mucous membranes.
2. Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid which has numerous functions in the body. It helps to increase the production of white blood cells which are an important part of your immune system. A large clinical trial has shown vitamin C to be effective at shortening the duration and severity of a cold. However, not preventing them from occurring.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin is very important to prevent colds. It has been shown to be almost as effective as getting a flu vaccine! This is especially true for people who have low levels of vitamin D. Click here for more information on vitamin Ds numerous benefits.
4. Vitamin E
Taking vitamin E regularly at 200 IU per day has been shown to reduce the occurrence of colds in elderly patients. It also helped to reduce the number of days with a cold.
The body needs adequate levels of zinc to help fight off viruses and bacteria. It is believed that zinc prevents those invaders from being able to latch on to different types of cells in the body. Studies have shown that Zinc in doses over 75mg per day can help shorten cold symptoms if taken early.
How Do Over The Counter Immune Boosters Work?
Over The Counter (OTC) drugs that boost immunity work by having one of the vitamins and minerals listed above as their active ingredients. The packages say all the right things about dealing with and preventing cold symptoms. They seem like the perfect remedy.
Not so fast!
They all have different amounts of these vitamins and minerals and in those combinations may not due much for boosting immunity.
Airborne and Emergen-C have both make claims of boosting the immune system. In this post we will compare these medications to see if they contain the most proven immune boosters listed above. Ultimately, which is the better option Airborne vs Emergen-C?
However, no healthcare professional should jump right into medication without first reviewing a few basic non medication tips.
Before any medication lifestyle changes
Similar to most things in life, the choices you make can affect your likelihood of getting a cold. These lifestyle changes can help prevent you from getting a cold. This is always better than getting sick and taking medication to fight the cold off.
Foods contain the immune boosting vitamins and minerals listed above. Therefore, eating a balanced diet that contains these things is the best first step to staying healthy. Examples of the types of food you should eat include:
- Whole grains, not the processed kind
- Dairy products
- Lean protein
Aerobic exercise has positive effects on immunity. Moderate activity, such as walking can go a long way. A study in the American Journal of Medicine found that people who walked for 30 minutes per day over a year had only half the number of the colds compared to a group that did not walk.
Regular exercise of any kind can keep excess weight off. This has been shown to increase the production of white blood cells and therefore boost immunity.
Regular washing of the hands with soap and water for at least 30 seconds is a sure fire way to reduce your chances of getting a cold.
Another great idea is to get a flu vaccine each year. This is the number one way to prevent getting a cold due to influenza. The vaccine prevents millions of illnesses per year according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The time that we sleep is when the body is repairing itself from the strains and stresses of the day. It is critical to overall health and to prevent pesky colds. According to Sleepfoundation.org people who sleep less than 6 hours per night are four times as likely to catch a cold. In fact for optimal health they recommend:
7-9 hours of sleep per night
- Smoking actually depresses your immune system. It destroys the bodies natural defenses in the lungs and is one of the most costly and damaging things you can do to your body.
Airborne contains the following blend as active ingredients. Only a few formulations also contain Elderberry, which is claimed to shorten the duration of a colds.
|Vitamin A||Vitamin C|
Several different dosage forms are available including:
- Effervescent tablets
- Chewable tablets
Airborne original chewable tablets
Directions for use depend on the dosage form. That means you need to pay attention to the directions on the bottle if you decide to use Airborne. The good news is all dosage forms are only taken once daily.
- Contains retinal acetate a form of vitamin A, which is not found in Emergen-C.
- 1,000mg of vitamin C make Airborne a substantially higher dose than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) advised for normal dietary intake.
- The products contains vitamin E, which can help prevent colds.
- Zinc is an active ingredient that has also shown benefits in shortening cold duration.
- Only needs to be taken 1 time per day.
- Comes in several different flavors.
- Vitamin A can accumulate in the body over time and cause side effects and toxicity.
- Does not say how much vitamin E the product contains.
- The amount of Zinc in the product is not listed on the product labeling.
- In 2008 the manufacturer had to pay a $40 million settlement for making claims that were not true about the things the product could do.
- Dietary supplements are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for efficacy.
- A bottle of Airborne original cost ~$20.00 for 116 tablets.
- The recommended dose is 4 tablets per day which means a 29 day supply is $20.
**Prices subject to change.
Emergen-C contains the following blend as active ingredients. There are numerous formulations and a flavor for just about every taste bud type.
|Vitamin B6||Folate||Cyanocobalamin||Pantothenic acid|
Similar to Airborne, several different dosage forms are available including:
- Effervescent packets
It is important to note that not all the products have all the ingredients listed above. What is consistent is they all contain 1000mg of vitamin C and 2mg of zinc.
Emergen-C directions for use differ based on packets, gummies, or chewables. However, all only need to be taken once per day.
- The product has been on the market since 1978 and been widely used, so you can feel safe using the it.
- There are several different flavors.
- Only needs to be taken once per day.
- Vitamin C at the 1,000mg dose does have evidence of providing benefits for cold symptoms.
- Contains Zinc which has been shown effective at shortening duration of colds.
- The original formulation of Emergen-C is cheaper than Airborne.
- Product only contains 2mg of Zinc which is not enough to have clinical benefits that have been previously studied.
- Contains simple sugars that are just empty calories used to give the product better flavor. Up to 12% of your daily value.
- Some of the other products they sell may contain additional ingredients that could interact with prescription medications.
- Dietary supplements are not evaluated by the FDA for efficacy.
- One box containing 30 Emergen-C packets costs ~$9.00
- The recommended dose is one packet per day so a 30 day supply costs $9.00
**Prices subject to change.
Airborne vs Emergen-C: The Similarities
In a general sense, these two products are similar to each other. The main similarity is that the active ingredient and dose is vitamin C 1,000mg. In addition, zinc is found in both products though the exact amount in Airborne is unknown.
Another similarity is they come in a few different dosage forms. This is a nice option if you don’t like to swallow tablets, or already have a sore throat. If you have a strong preference for flavors they both offer many options.
A final similarity is that both of these products are sold as dietary supplements. This means they are not regulated by the FDA for safety or efficacy. Be careful and don’t believe all the claims you see regarding dietary supplements.
Airborne vs Emergen-C: The Differences
When it comes to differences, Airborne has a few ingredients that Emergen-C does not. Vitamin A and E are in the original Airborne products. These have also shown benefit in preventing or treating colds but the doses are not revealed.
In either case make sure you review what the ingredients are prior to purchasing one of the many forms of Airborne or Emergen-C.
Airborne vs Emergen-C FAQs
Does Airborne Really Work for immune boosting?
If searching for clinical trials that prove Airborne can prevent or treat a common cold you will come up empty handed. That typically sounds alarms for doctors and pharmacists. However, ingredients in the product have been found to be effective.
Does Airborne shorten a cold?
Airborne may work for you, but it has never been proven to be effective like prescription drugs must in order to be sold to patients.
In 2008 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined the manufacturer and made Airborne change their marketing messages. Now they are very general saying things like “Airborne is #1” or “Daily immune support”.
Keep this in mind before you try Airborne.
Does Emergen-C actually work?
There is research to support vitamin C and Zinc in being beneficial in shortening cold duration and symptoms. However, the combination that is Emergen-C specifically does not have studies that prove it works.
Some people may experience relief when taking Emergen-C. Given that it is lower cost than Airborne, it may be worth a try to see if it helps you.
Is it OK to take vitamin C and zinc together?
Taking vitamin C and zinc together does not pose any risk. The two do not interact with each other to cause and side effects that have been documented.
Several products like Airborne and Emergen-C combine vitamin C and zinc to get the benefits of both in shortening cold symptoms and duration. They are thought to work in different ways to produce those effects.
What happens if you take too much vitamin C?
The good news is vitamin C is safe and has a low risk of causing toxicity. Typically high doses would need to be taken for long periods of time to cause side effects. That is good given that products used for colds are normally short term.
The tolerable upper dosing limit according to the National Institutes of Health are 2 grams per day for anyone over 18 years of age.
However, if using Airborne or Emergen-C to prevent colds all winter long then here are some side effects to watch out for.
- Abdominal cramps
Can you take Airborne and vitamin C together?
Airborne and vitamin C are safe to take together. It is important to remember that Airborne contains vitamin C. Therefore, you would not want to take any other form of vitamin C that would put you over the 2 grams per day limit.
Aside from the high dose concern, there are no drug interactions between Airborne and vitamin C.
What is similar to Emergen-C?
Aside from Airborne there are several other products on the market similar to Emergen-C. The table below lists the most commonly used products.
|Zicam||Cold-EEZE Immune Support|
|Culturelle Immune Support Formula||Sambucol|
|Halls Defense||Nature Made Immune Care|
|Zarbee’s Immune Support||Alive! Immune Gummies|
|EZC Pak||Ricola Herbal Immunity|
Is it OK to take Emergen-C daily?
Emergen-C contains 1,000mg (1 gram) of vitamin C. That amount is tolerable to be taken daily without expecting side effects in most healthy adults. The product is sold as daily immune support.
An important thing to keep in mind is that the numerous different formulations of Emergen-C and what they contain. Always check the ingredients and ask your doctor of pharmacist if taking that product daily is safe for you. Remember, the benefits that have been proven for some Emergen-C ingredients. Those are to shorten cold symptoms and duration….not preventing colds.
Does Airborne work if you already have a cold?
There is no evidence supporting the fact that Airborne prevents colds. If you already have a cold, some of the ingredients in Airborne have been shown to help shorten the symptoms and the duration. Keep in mind the amount of time it cuts off your cold may only be a day or less on average.
What are the side effects of Airborne?
The Airborne website does not list common side effects of the product. Because it is a dietary supplement this type of information is not required to be produced and shown to the FDA. Therefore you need to look at the side effects some of the ingredients are known to cause. These include:
- Abdominal pain
Keep in mind Airborne contains vitamin A!
Too much vitamin A can be dangerous due to it accumulating in the body. This is especially true if you eat foods that have a lot of vitamin A as well. Here are the key things to watch out for.
|Severe diarrhea||Muscle weakness|
|Vomiting||Tingling and numbness|
Who should not take Airborne?
Similar to the side effects of Airborne, trying to find out who should avoid it is tough. Therefore, you should just go by what is known about some of the ingredients. Anyone with one of the diseases below should not take Airborne.
|Pregnant women||Rheumatoid arthritis|
How many days in a row can you take Airborne?
Both Airborne and Emergen-C are supposed to be used daily. However, there is no real guidance for you on how long you can take them for.
As mentioned the amounts of vitamins and minerals in these products is well above Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA). Therefore, taking large amounts over long periods of time will put you at a higher risk of a problem.
If you take the product for more than the duration of your cold you should talk with your doctor or pharmacist. There is no evidence to support the fact that you should be on these products long term.
Airborne and Emergen-C are similar products. The ingredients overlap somewhat except for the vitamin A & E in Airborne.
The best advice is to listen to reputable organizations and follow their guidance. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health does not support the use of Airborne or Emergen-C. However, given the low cost and lack of vitamin A, Emergen-C original formulation may be worth a shot.
The time tested methods below should always be used.
1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
2. Get the flu vaccine.
3. Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
4. Vitamin D should be utilized for many reasons, just one of which is preventing colds.
Click here to get Dr. Jason Reed’s exclusive list of medication questions you MUST ask your doctor, for FREE!
Share your story
Have you used Airborne or Emergen-C? Also, please share how they worked for you. Chime in below with your comments and thoughts.