Cough Remedies

Preparations containing various drugs used to treat coughing

Common drugs

  • Codeine

  • Dextromethorphan

  • Guaifenesin

  • Pholcodine

Coughing is a natural reflex that helps to clear the lungs of sputum produced by infections. The effectiveness of cough medicines is doubtful, which is why doctors rarely prescribe them for minor respiratory disorders. However, there are many cough remedies available over the counter. Almost all of these are syrups to which a variety of drugs and flavourings have been added. Most are of little medicinal value, although some may have soothing properties.

The main groups of drugs used to treat coughs are expectorants, mucolytics, and suppressants. Expectorants are supposed to encourage productive coughs (which produce sputum), but their benefit is not proven.

Mucolytic preparations make sputum less sticky and easier to cough up, but they are of little benefit to most people. However, mucolytic drugs are used in the treatment of cystic fibrosis, in which abnormally thick, sticky sputum is produced.

Cough suppressants which often contain drugs such as codeine or pholcodine, are usually effective in relieving a troublesome cough. They can cause drowsiness, which may be helpful if a cough interrupts sleep. However, if you feel drowsy after taking the drugs, you should not drive or operate machinery. They should be taken according to your doctor’s or the manufacturer’s instructions. They are not advised for a cough that is producing large amounts of sputum because preventing the expulsion of sputum can delay recovery from an infection.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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