How to Choose Over-the-Counter Cough Medication
When it comes to cough medicine there are many questions people want to know the answer to. What’s available, what are the different types of cough medicine, should you take anything over-the-counter? There are two types of over-the-counter cough medicine and cough syrups – cough suppressants and oral expectorants.
However, many over-the-counter medicines can be a combination of a cough suppressant or an expectorant with other cold medicines and pain relievers. For instance, depending on the symptoms you experience, you can get a cough syrup that also contains an antihistamine, a decongestant, or a pain reliever. This combination of medicines may provide you with optimal relief if you have more than one symptom besides coughing, like for instance body aches, a stuffy nose, fever.
Depending on the type of cough you experience, you should choose a suitable cough syrup. Now, before you purchase anything, let’s see what you need to pay attention to.
An Expectorant for a Productive Cough
Mucus is a protective lining in the airways. It’s made up of 98% water, 1% salt and 1% biopolymers (very long molecules that give mucus that gel-like quality). When your body is “attacked” by a virus or bacteria, the cells that make mucus start to pump out this slimy agent, that picks up the germs. Even though uncomfortable, the mucus is actually cleaning your body.
So when you have a productive cough (although not pleasant at all) you shouldn’t do anything to suppress it. Your body is fighting and cleaning itself. But sometimes the mucus is so thick that you may feel as if though you can’t get it outside. This can be bad, because it will cause trouble to breathe. So, in this case, a cough syrup with an expectorant ingredient can help.
Expectorants are an excellent help for thin mucus so you can cough it out of your lungs without too much effort. This is useful when you have thick congestion and find it difficult to expel it on your own. When mucus sits in your lungs for too long, it can become a breeding ground for bacterial infections, including pneumonia. An expectorant will help you cough out and clear out the mucus and prevent dangerous infections.
A Suppressant for a Dry Cough
So, we’ve already determined that coughing is the body’s way of clearing foreign and harmful substances in the lungs. That being said, it’s not always a good idea to stop it. However, if you’re experiencing an annoying dry cough that prevents you from sleeping at night a cough suppressant is often the best choice for therapy. Even your doctor would prescribe one.
Cough suppressants help to relieve your cough by blocking the cough reflex. The most common ingredient present in cough suppressant in over-the-counter formulations is dextromethorphan or DM. Codeine is the gold standard of cough suppressants but is only available in prescription form because of its potential for being abused. Another popular choice is Delsym – it contains dextromethorphan in a long-acting (twelve-hour) formulation.
If you decide to use a cough suppressant, keep in mind that these medications are best used at night when coughing becomes severe and you are having trouble sleeping. Codeine and dextromethorphan (the main ingredients) can cause drowsiness and impairment, so they shouldn’t be taken during the day, especially not if your work requires a high degree of concentration or before driving.
There are debates about the effectiveness and usefulness of these medicines. There is a growing amount of research that they aren’t effective, especially in children.
Consider Your General Health
Before you decide to get cough medicines, be sure about your general health. Although cough syrups are mainly safe, it’s best if you’re aware of your condition. Talk to your doctor before getting any over-the-counter medicine even if that is herbal cough syrup.
It’s important to tell your doctor if you’re a smoker or have had a long-lasting cough with big amounts of phlegm. Your health provider must know if you have asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or other breathing issues. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant, make sure you inform them about this as well. You should also disclose if you are taking or recently stopped taking a drug classified as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor.
Cough Medication and Children
Doctors don’t recommend over-the-counter cough medicines for children younger than six because of the risk of accidental poisoning. If you have a toddler who is coughing, make sure you take them to the doctor before deciding to purchase a cough syrup by yourself.
Things to Remember
If you aren’t sure what’s caused your cough, especially now during the pandemic, make sure you get all the necessary tests. Your coughing may be caused by a million different reasons. It could be a common cold, allergies, throat irritation, COVID-19, bronchitis, or something else. Although a cough medication can provide some relief from your symptoms, don’t let yourself go without a proper medical exam. Your case may require antibiotics or other medicine that you won’t be able to purchase over-the-counter.
If you do get cough medicine, be sure to purchase from trusted pharmacies and from known manufacturers. Read the leaflet carefully and if anything feels odd, stop using the product and call your doctor or pharmacist.
Stay healthy and safe.