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Coughing is our body’s way of keeping our airways open and free of harmful substances. While this is a normal reflex, too much coughing can be a symptom of disease. Although many over-the-counter medications are available, a popular choice is cough drops. Do these really work? And, how well do they relieve cough? 

What are the types of cough medicines?

Expectorants and suppressants are the two types of cough medicines. In treating a cough, it is best to treat each symptom separately. To clarify, taking several drugs for the same reason often results in their effects canceling each other. Moreover, it risks doing more harm than good. 

Although research on cough treatment continues to develop, there is still much to discover. Yet, here is what we know so far:

  • Expectorants help “loosen” thick phlegm, often seen in a wet or productive cough. This added fluidity makes it easier to spit out or expel. These medications often have a substance named guaifenesin as the main ingredient. 
  • Suppressants lessen the cough reflex. They are best used against dry or non-productive cough, which can interfere with your sleep. Remember to use suppressants carefully because cough is usually your “friend” as it prevents mucus from building up in our airways. The cleansing purpose of coughing can help prevent bacterial infections later on. Cough drops fall under this category. 

If you are unsure of which medication to take, it would be best to consult your doctor. Not only can they prescribe you the most effective and appropriate treatment, but they can also assess whether further treatment is necessary. 

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How do cough drops work?

Cough drops work in several ways. Besides suppressing the cough reflex temporarily, but also soothe and moisten an irritated throat. Depending on the cough drop’s ingredients, they can also combat colds and numb pain and irritation. These are effects of their typical active ingredients, menthol, and eucalyptus. Some cough drops even include honey, which is known to suppress cough. To sum up, the act of sucking on a cough drop can provide multiple benefits, since it: 

  • increases saliva production,
  • relieves throat dryness, 
  • and can reduce pain and itchiness. 

Despite these positive effects, there is little medical evidence supporting the use of cough drops. The American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) recommendations mention only anti-cough drugs to manage an acute cough. Namely, antihistamines with dextromethorphan (e.g., Robitussin or Vicks). In other words, a studied drug combination, in which the former reduces inflammation, and the latter decongests. It is also worth noting that a cough drop will not necessarily cure an infection. Cough drops can only relieve symptoms and ease the pain. If your symptoms worsen or last more than a few days, consult your doctor immediately. 

Can I overdose on cough drops?

It is possible, but quite unlikely, to overdose on cough drops. The lethal dose of menthol, the main ingredient in cough drops, is about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. In other words, you would have to eat several thousand cough drops in a short amount of time for a lethal overdose. Nevertheless, here are the possible symptoms you may experience if you consume an excessive amount of cough drops:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches 

Knowing this can help you identify when an overdose occurs and help your doctor determine the best management. If you notice you or someone else has a fast heart rate, shallow breathing, palpitations, seizures or convulsions, or unconsciousness, you must act quickly. You must immediately call your doctor and proceed to the nearest hospital. These are signs of a medical emergency and warrant urgent care.

Cough Medicine Precautions

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While each drug often produces a specific effect, some people may respond uniquely. So here are some safety precautions to keep in mind while taking your cough medicineHere are some helpful precautions to take so you can ensure safety while taking your cough medicine:

  • Drowsiness is a common side effect of cough medicine.
  • Cough medicines can affect other health conditions like heart disease, elevated blood pressure, or glaucoma. Read the label and consult your doctor to help you choose the medication best suited for you. 
  • Always read the label. Some medications contain a large amount of alcohol or codeine, which are not suitable for children under 18 years old. 
  • Do not take someone else’s cough prescription. 
  • Take care in giving cough and cold medicine to children. Consult a pediatrician to avoid any adverse drug reactions. 

These precautions are crucial; they can ensure your safety while building your confidence to deal with another coughing fit in the futureThese precautions can not only ensure your safety, but also give you greater confidence if you ever have to deal with another cough episode in the future. 

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How else can I relieve my cough?

Apart from medication, home remedies also play a role in cough management. Here are just some of the ways you can relieve your symptoms at home and hasten the healing process:

  • Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated. Water is the best solvent, as it loosens phlegm stuck in the throat and soothes an irritated throat. You can tackle a dry cough by drinking hot water, tea, or lemon juice enriched with a spoonful of honey. Do not give honey to children younger than one year because they cannot digest it properly.
  • Use pillows to elevate your head to help you sleep.
  • Quit smoking, as this can dramatically improve your symptoms. Avoiding secondhand smoke is also recommended.
  • Avoid exposure to irritants like smoke, dust, or pollen. Wearing a face mask can address this. 

Although the above list is not exhaustive by any means, I hope these measures can help improve your symptoms and maybe even aid with a speedy recovery. Taking extra precautions, being vigilant, and caring for each other will definitely go a long way, especially in this time of pandemic.

Click here if you want to learn more about cough drops, overdose, and home remedies.

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