Updated: Jun 20, 2021
A cough, whether productive (wet) or non-productive (dry), typically occurs as a result of inflammation or congestion along the respiratory tract. It can typically last from a few days to weeks. A cough may be caused by an infection, allergens, chronic or autoimmune illnesses or as a side effect of some medications. Due to its various causes, it is important that patients know when to reach out to their doctors or seek the advice of their local pharmacist. Not all coughs require antibiotics or antivirals, and in some cases, using rescue inhalers like albuterol (Ventolin) or changing a medication class can provide relief to the cough. There are over-the-counter (OTC) medications approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration available to help provide relief to cough resulting from common cold. To achieve optimal cough relief, it is important that the right product is chosen.
OTC Product Types:
Expectorants: Active ingredient- Guaifenesin (MUCINEX, CHERATUSSIN etc.)
Approved by the United States FDA for the expectoration of abnormal sputum in adults and pediatric patients who are 2 years and older. In other words, it helps loosen up mucus/sputum and congestion in the lower airways. Most patients do not experience relief if used for dry/non-productive cough. It is usually recommended to stay hydrated while using this medication for cough as a result of common cold. Please note that it is always a good practice to consult a pharmacist or your physician if no improvement in cough symptom after using this medication for about 1 week (or any other self-care treatment for that matter).
Suppressants: Active Ingredients – Dextromethorphan (Delsym etc.)
Approved by the United States FDA for the suppression of cough (mostly non-productive/ dry cough) in adults and pediatric patients who 12 years and older. In other words, it helps reduce the frequency of cough, providing a much needed relief at bedtime. Consult with a pharmacist or your pediatrician to check the appropriateness of use in patients younger than 12 years old (a different formulation is available for this age group). It is usually recommended to stay hydrated while using this medication and monitor for drowsiness effects. If you are currently or just finished using a class of medication called MOAI (Mono Amine Oxidase Inhibitors) for mood or other neurodegenerative conditions do not use Delsym without talking to your doctor or pharmacist. Due to the potential for abuse of this medication at high doses, most states in the United States prohibits the sale of this cough product to persons younger than 18 years of age.
There are some combination products that include, Mucinex DM, Mucinex D (contain Pseudoephedrine for sinus congestion relief) Robitussin DM, Diabetic Tussin DM, Coricidin Chest. Due to the multiple symptoms that often come with a common cold, over the counter products often have multiple ingredients to provide optimum relief to these symptoms. Check the active ingredients to ensure if a particular product is suitable or appropriate for you. Consult with your pharmacists or physicians for additional questions.
It is important that patient understand how and when to use these over the counter products. As a general rule when using these products for self-treatment, consider consulting your pharmacists or physician if no relief is achieved after about 7 days of treatment. This may be due to other reasons such as a side effect from taking certain medications or a more serious underlying heart or respiratory conditions.
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