Cough Drops: What You Need to Know

Christine Jacobson with Wasatch Health Mart Pharmacy sheds some light on cough drops and what you need to know to make “the medicine go down” … or if, in fact, the medicine is actually there in the first place.

Not all cough drops are created equal … in fact, are cough drops the answer to your winter cold?

What is a cough?

A cough is a natural reflex reaction to some irritant in your throat, whether it be mucus or inflammation. It protects the respiratory system by clearing it of irritants and secretions. Usually it lasts one to two weeks and usually tapers off after the irritant leaves your system. Coughs are usually dry, when no irritants are released and productive, when your coughing brings up irritants. Coughing is a natural, protective reflext and sometimes suppressing it might actually not be the best thing.

Taking cough drops may alleviate symptoms such as sore throat, irritation, excessive cough but will not expedite curing the cold or the cough. Antibiotics will not cure a cough caused by a viral infection and are not recommended unless a secondary bacterial infection is warranted by your healthcare professional. Be sure to check with your personal health care provider

A word of caution:

Adults 65 and older are — in some areas — developing whooping cough because of non-immunization of children. So if you’re 65 and older and have a lingering cough, be sure to check with your healthcare provider to rule out whooping cough — or any other serious condition.

Cough Drops

Group #1 – Pectins and Sugars

Examples include Fisherman’s Friend, Throat Discs, Ludens and Bear Throat Pops. These help to increase salivation to hydrate the throat. There is no medicinal advantage, just sugars and pectins.

Group #2 – Irritants (for scratchy, itchy throats)

Examples include menthol/phenol additions such as Vicks, Halls, Robitussin, N’Ice and Cepastat. These cough drops help relieve throat irritation by changing mucousial linings that are inflammed due to colds, trauma, yelling and screaming or from excessive coughing.

Group #3 – Anesthetics/Benzocaines (numb the throat)

Examples include Sucrets, Chloroseptic and Cepacol. These take away the pain of a sore throat. They don’t eliminate the sore throat, but temporarily relieve the symptoms

Group #4 – Homeopathic Herbals

Examples include Ricola. Again, they do not cure cough, but they alleviate symptoms. This also can include remedies such as honey, tea and lemon or other herbal products. Gargling with saline solution may help.

Adults, Children and Coughs

The American College of Chest Physicians makes these recommendations:

“For Adults with an acute cough or postnasal drip, the best option is proably an older variety antihistamine with a decongestant, such as Dimetapp Cold and Allergy Elixir, Robitussin Allergy and Cough Liquid or Vicks Nyquil. It also recommend that adults up to 65 years old receive a new adult vacccine for whooping cough.

“For children younger than 14, ACCP also strongly urges that over-to-counter cough and cold medications not be used. The risk of dangerous side effects can outweigh any benefits.

Quoting the ACCP,

“Cough is very common in children. However, cough and cold medicines are not useful in children and can actually be harmful.. In most cases, a cough that is unrelated to chronic lung conditions, environmental influences or other specific factors will resolve on its own.

When is a cough serious enough for medical attention?

“Excessive coughing or coughing that produces blood, or thick, discolored mucus is abnormal, so see your health care provider as soon as possible.”

American College of Chest Physicians, Jan 9, 2006

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