A new app has been launched which tells US consumers exactly which product is the right one to buy to treat their cold and flu symptoms.

The first-of-its-kind app, launched by online health information database Iodine, helps US patients sift through the more than 300 cold and flu products available at drugstores to find and compare medications that treat their own combination of symptoms. In the app, people can select cold and flu symptoms to see a short list of ingredients that treat them, plus a side-by-side comparison of products that contain those ingredients. Then they can print, text or email the list to themselves to take to the drugstore.

Iodine says it built the cold and flu app because it thinks that consumers are overwhelmed by options and marketing for cold and flu products, and because they are spending too much on brand-name products.

US drugstores offer more than 300 cold and flu products that combine just four types of ingredients – decongestants, pain and fever reducers, cough suppressants and expectorants, says the firm. Each brand name has its own version of almost every combination, plus various dosage forms such as liquid or tablets and a range of dosage strengths – for example “maximum strength.”  Deciphering different products and ingredients is confusing to anyone without medical training, says the firm.

People spend too much on brand names, it adds, pointing to data from National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) which finds that US consumers spend an extra $44 billion a year on brand-name products in drugstores, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications and other health items. Pharmacists are 90% more likely to buy generics, it adds.

Moreover, people are taking more medicine than they need, says Iodine. Many choose combination products that have more ingredients than they need, putting them a higher risk for side effects, drug interactions and overdoses.

People are “overspending on brand names and often taking combination products with more ingredients than they really need,” says Amanda Angelotti, the firm’s director of product. “Iodine’s cold and flu app helps you narrow down your option to products that treat the symptoms you actually have, and shows you store brands and generics that cost less but work just as well,” she adds.