What is cold and cough medicines?

Cough Suppressant

A cough suppressant is a medicine that acts on the nervous system to suppress the cough reflex. Cough suppressants can be nonprescription or prescription.

Before you use cough and cold medicines, check the label. They may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems.

What are the different types of cough medicines?

There are two kinds of cough medicines: expectorants and suppressants.

Expectorants may make it easier to cough up mucus when you have a productive cough.

  • Use an expectorant if you have a cough that produces thick mucus and you are having difficulty coughing up the mucus.
  • Look for expectorants containing guaifenesin.

Suppressants may control or suppress the cough reflex and work best for a dry, hacking cough that keeps you awake.

  • Use cough suppressants wisely. Don't suppress a productive cough too much, unless it is keeping you from getting enough rest. Coughing is useful, because it brings up mucus from the lungs and helps to prevent bacterial infections.
  • If you have a dry, hacking cough that does not bring anything up, ask your doctor about an effective cough suppressant medicine.

How well do cough medicines work?

There is not enough evidence to determine whether cough medicines work. But some people may find them useful. Avoid cold remedies that combine medicines to treat many symptoms. It is generally better to treat each symptom separately.

Children and Cough and Cold Medicines

How safe are cough medicines?

Here are some cautions about cough medicines.

  • Cough medicines may cause drowsiness.
  • Cough medicines can cause problems for people who have other health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma, or an enlarged prostate. Cough preparations may also interact with other medicines, such as sedatives and certain antidepressants. Read the package carefully or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose one.
  • Use them with caution if you give them to an older adult or if you have chronic respiratory problems.
  • Read the label so you know what the ingredients are. Some cough medicines contain a large percentage of alcohol. Others contain codeine. Don't give codeine to children under the age of 18. There are many choices. Ask your pharmacist to advise you.
  • Do not take someone else's prescription cough medicine.
  • Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.