Cough medications are commonly purchased to treat coughs that occur when you have an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). Cough is often divided into a dry cough, and the cough chesty. However, it is believed that cough medicines do not work. However, some people feel that work for them and they are believed to be quite safe drugs. Children age six and under should only be administered simple cough mixtures such as glycerin, honey and lemon.
On this page
- What is a cough?
- What is a respiratory tract infection?
- What is a cough?
- How cough medicines work?
- Do cough medicines actually work?
- What cough medicines should I buy?
- Some important considerations
- What are the possible side effects?
- What is the usual duration of treatment?
- Who can not take cough medicine?
- Using the Yellow Card Program
What is a cough?
Coughing is an automatic (reflex) response to irritation of the airways in the lungs. The airways of the lungs can get irritated by a number of things – for example, too secretions (liquid), infections, allergens and irritant gases, or dust or smoke.
Having a cough is the main symptom of an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). However, a cough can be a symptom of other diseases such as asthma or lung disease.
This brochure is only cough when used to treat coughs caused by URTI. It is assumed that you are sure that you know that I have nothing more serious or other cause of cough. Consult your doctor if you are unsure.
When you have a cough caused by a URTI, usually described as being a chesty cough or a dry cough. If you have a chesty cough this usually means your lungs are producing more mucus (fluid) than normal, because you have an infection, and a cough with this excess mucus. If you have a dry cough that usually means that you are coughing a lot, but there is mucus when you cough.
What is a respiratory tract infection?
Infections of the throat (larynx), or the main airway (trachea), or airway to the lungs (bronchi) are common. These infections are sometimes called laryngitis, tracheitis, bronchitis or. Doctors often refer only to upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) to include any or all of these infections. IVRS Most are due to a viral infection. Cold symptoms can also occur if the infection affects the nose.
Symptoms usually peak after 2-3 days, and then gradually clear. However, the cough may persist after the infection is gone. This is due to inflammation in the airways, caused by infection, it may take a while to settle. It may take 2-3 weeks after other symptoms have disappeared, cough to clear completely.
What is a cough?
Cough medicines are a group of drugs that aim to either suppress a dry cough, or are intended to help you cough up mucus (chesty cough) when you have a URTI. Cough medications that are intended to help eliminate dry cough are sometimes called antitussives. Cough medications that are intended to help you cough up mucus are sometimes called expectorants.
A lot of cough medicines are available to buy at pharmacies or supermarkets. They usually contain one or more of the following:
- An antitussive (cough suppressant) – for example, dextromethorphan or pholcodine.
- An expectorant – for example, guaifenesin, or ipecac.
- An antihistamine – brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, doxylamine, promethazine, and triprolidine.
- A decongestant – for example, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, oxymetazoline, and xylometazoline.
A glycerin, honey and lemon cough syrup is also available for purchase. This preparation has no active ingredient as such. Is believed to have a calming action.
Cough medications may also contain other drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Some contain alcohol.
How cough medicines work?
Cough medicines are believed to act in different ways, depending on what is the active ingredient:
- Antitussives said to work to reduce coughing.
- Expectorants is said to increase the amount of mucus (liquid) made by the lungs. This would make it easier to remove secretions by coughing.
- Antihistamines reduce histamine release. This reduces congestion and reduces the amount of secretions from the lungs made.
- Decongestants make the blood vessels of the lungs and nose to constrict, reducing congestion.
Do cough medicines actually work?
There is good evidence from research studies that cough medicines work. Is believed to have little benefit in cough (or cold) symptoms. However, some people feel that work for them and these drugs are considered safe for the vast majority of adults and children over six years old.
What cough medicines should I buy?
If you have a dry cough, a preparation containing an antitussive dextromethorphan or pholcodine is best to try. If you have a chesty cough, a preparation containing an expectorant such as guaifenesin or ipecac is best to try. Your pharmacist can advise what may be right for you. If you are buying these drugs at the supermarket, which are usually clearly labeled on the box state what kind of cough that claim to help.
Some important considerations
Some important considerations about cough medicines are:
- When children are under six years of age.
- Where other drugs are being taken.
Children under six years of age
For children under six years of age, just give them simple preparations such as glycerin, honey and lemon. Do not give to children who are under cough six years with any of the aforementioned active ingredients (antitussives, expectorants, antihistamines and decongestants). This is because the risk of a young child that has a side effect of these preparations is one greater than the benefit of the medicine.
Taking other medicines
Always check with your pharmacist before buying any medication at the pharmacy or supermarket to see if they are safe to take with any other medicines you are taking.
Some cough medicines contain other drugs as well. For example, some may contain paracetamol, ibuprofen, and some contain alcohol. This is important if you are already taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve symptoms of infection (eg, high temperature). This is because you can take too much acetaminophen or ibuprofen (overdose), but not be aware of it. Taking too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
If you are taking aa particular type of antidepressant – monoamine oxidase (MAO) – these may react with certain ingredients in cough medicines. Taking this together can cause a huge spike in blood pressure (hypertensive crisis), or make you very excitable or depressed. In particular, people taking MAOIs should avoid dextromethorphan, ephedrine or pseudoephedrine while taking an MAOI antidepressant and for two weeks after it stopped.
Dextromethorphan when taken with an MAOI antidepressant may make you very excitable or depressed. Ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, when taken at the same time as an MAOI antidepressant, can cause large increases in blood pressure (hypertensive crisis).
What are the possible side effects?
Most people taking cough medicines have no side effects. Some cough medicines (eg pholcodine and diphenhydramine) can cause drowsiness. If you feel drowsy after taking a cough medicine, you should not drive or operate machinery. The booklet that comes with your medicine indicate whether the drug can cause drowsiness.
Pholcodine can cause constipation.
Note: the above is not a complete list of side effects of these drugs. Please see the flyer that came with your particular brand for a complete list of possible side effects and precautions.
What is the usual duration of treatment?
As with all medicines, cough medicines should only be taken for the shortest period of time, and most people only need to use a cough medicine for a few days. In general, most coughs do not last more than 2-3 weeks. If the cough lasts longer than this, then you should see your doctor.
Who can not take cough medicine?
Most people can take a cough medicine. The exception is children under six. These children should only be given cough medicines with no active ingredients – for example, glycerin, honey and lemon. If you are taking other medications or if you are not sure whether to take a cough medicine, ask your pharmacist.
Using the Yellow Card Program
If you think you have had a side effect one of its medicines can report this to the Yellow Card Program. You can do this online at the following web address: http://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk
The Yellow Card Program is used to pharmacists, doctors and nurses knew new side effects that medications may have caused. If you wish to report a side effect, you will need to provide basic information about:
- The side effect.
- The name of the medicine that you think caused it.
- Information about the person who had the side effect.
- Your contact the reporter as a side effect.
Useful if you have your medication and / or leaflet that comes with it with you while you complete the report.