Over the counter cough medicine

Cough is a normal and automatic reaction to protect and clear your lungs. It is a common feature of most respiratory disease and will increase with exacerbations and infections.

Many patients are keen to help themselves and look to over the counter remedies such as non-prescription ‘cough bottles’.

  • Coughs tend to be ‘chesty’ or ‘dry’.
  • Cough preparations claim to help mucus be cleared or calm down an irritating cough.
  • Advice from a health care professional should be sought. Some ingredients can interact with prescribed medication.

There are two types:

  1. Antitussives (for dry cough) are said to work by reducing the cough reflex e.g. dextromethorphan or pholcodine.
  2. Expectorants (for chesty cough) try to loosen secretions to help you cough up excessive mucous e.g. guaifenesin.

There is little good quality evidence that cough medicines work but some people feel they work for them. Cough preparations with the active ingredients as above may be more effective. Medical advice should be given when taking cough preparations with other medication this is especially important in preparations containing paracetamol.