Cough Medicines, Nonprescription
Choosing a cough medicine can be confusing.
There are different types of cough medicines for different kinds of coughs. Many do not need a prescription.
Health Canada recommends that cough medicines should NOT be given to children under six years of age.
A cough can be dry and hacking. Or it may be deeper, even painful sometimes, and the cough may bring up mucus or phlegm. Primary care providers call this deeper cough a productive cough because it produces mucus.
When you are buying non-prescription cough medicine, you need to decide:
· Do you need to get relief from the cough so that you are coughing less?
· Do you need something to help you loosen the mucus?
· Do you need both?
What are expectorants?
If you need to loosen and cough up mucus, an expectorant might help. Expectorants are cough medicines that may help to keep the mucus thin and bring up mucus from the lungs when you cough. This can relieve chest congestion and make it easier to breathe.
The drug used most often as an expectorant is guaifenesin. You can buy many forms of this medicine without a prescription. It comes in capsules, tablets, liquids, and cough syrups. Your Pharmacist can help you decide which is best for you.
If you are a smoker or have asthma or chronic bronchitis, check with your primary care provider or pharmacist before using an expectorant.
What are cough suppressants?
Cough suppressants are medicines that lessen the urge to cough. If you want relief from a dry, hacking cough, choose a cough suppressant. Cough suppressants should not be used if your cough is wet sounding and produces mucus.
The active ingredient in most cough suppressants is dextromethorphan (DM). Cough medicines with the initials DM in the name have dextromethorphan in them. You can buy many forms of this medicine without a prescription under many brand names. Always follow label instructions on cough suppressants to avoid overuse and possible side effects. Your Pharmacist can help you decide which is best for you.
What should I watch out for while taking these medicines?
If you choose a cough syrup with an antihistamine in it, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), know that it may cause drowsiness. Antihistamines can also make the mucus dry and hard to cough up.
Avoid using a cough suppressant if you have a cough with a lot of mucus that needs to be coughed up.
Drink a lot of water to help loosen mucus and make it easier to cough up.
If you are pregnant, consult your primary care provider or pharmacist before taking any medicines.
If you have a medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes, ask your pharmacist which cough syrups are safe to use with your other medicines.
Very young children may be more sensitive to the effects of these medicines. Do not give to a child less than six years old. Check the package label carefully. If you are not sure if the medicine can be given to a child, or if you have any questions about how much to give to a child, talk with your primary care provider or a pharmacist.
Both expectorants and cough suppressants should be used with caution in older adults. Use them only when recommended by your primary care provider.
If taken according to directions, these medicines are very safe and have few side effects. However, if you take too much, you may have symptoms such as a rash, severe headache, nausea, and vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms, consult your primary care provider.
Many non-prescription cough and cold medicines contain several ingredients to treat many symptoms. Read the labels and buy only the ingredients that you need. If you are not sure which medicine is best, ask your pharmacist.
These suggestions are intended for a new cough that you have had for a short time.
If you have a cough with other serious symptoms, such as shortness of breath or coughing up blood, contact your primary care provider.
If you do not know what is causing your cough or your cough has lasted more than a week, contact your primary care provider.
Where can I find more information?
Health Canada has information on cough medicines at: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/drugs-products-medicaments-produits/drugs-medicaments/under-age6-moins-eng.php?_ga=1.147982647.1223394645.1432212509