How can I treat a cough?
There are two types of OTC cough medications: antitussives and expectorants.
Antitussives are cough suppressants that help to quiet a cough by suppressing your body’s urge to cough. Dextromethorphan is the “DM” ingredient in many cough/cold products such as Deisym, Robitussin Cough and Vicks Cough.
Expectorants loosen mucus so that you can cough it up. Guaifenesin is an expectorant found in products such as Mucinex and Robitussin Chest Congestion. (29) When you have a cough, it’s also important to drink plenty of fluids, since liquids help thin the mucus in your throat and make it easier to cough it up.
Another option is a topical cough medication like Vicks VapoRub. This is rubbed into the chest as well as on the neck and throat. It has medicated vapors to relieve cough symptoms and congestion in both adults and children. (30)
How do cough medications work?
Antitussives and expectorants are combined in cough medications and they are also found together as ingredients in multi-symptom cold medications, which treat many symptoms at once. If you take a multi-symptom cold medication and your main symptom is a cough, watch out for the drying effect of antihistamines and decongestants. This can actually make a cough worse. In this case, a better option would be a medication that only treats your cough. However, if you have a cold or the flu, antihistamines may work better for a cough than a cough medication. (29) For assistance in choosing the right medication, talk to your Your pharmacist or healthcare professional.
What is the difference between cough drops and throat lozenges?
Cough drops often contain menthol, benzocaine or eucalyptus oil to calm a cough and add flavor to the product. (31) Dextromethorphan is the “DM” cough suppressant found in some cough drops. (32) Some cough drops contain sugar, while others are sugar-free, so check the label. Some cough drops aren’t much different from hard candy. They coat the throat to help relieve the tickle. (31)
Throat lozenges provide brief relief of sore throat symptoms. Most contain products that numb or coat the throat and offer an anti-itch effect. (33) Products with numbing agents may be used every three or four hours or as stated on the label. Do not eat or drink while your throat and mouth are numb because food constricts and tightens your passageways instead of easing them. (34) Sore throats that occur with a fever, headache, nausea or vomiting require medical attention. Other useful nonmedical options for sore throat include sucking on a hard candy, gargling with warm saltwaterand drinking tea with honey and lemon. An over the counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can also help reduce throat pain. (35)
Do I need to call my healthcare provider about my cough?
Below are some of the reasons you should call your healthcare provider regarding your cough:
- Your cough doesn’t get better after 10-14 days, or it gets worse
- You are coughing up thick, greenish-yellow phlegm and you have a fever
- You are coughing up blood
- When you exhale, you make a wheezing sound
- Your temperature is above 101° F
- You feel short of breath (29)