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Does Cough Syrup Work?

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No better than placebos according to Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of over the counter cough medicines for acute cough in adults.


It looks like the active ingredients in over the counter cough meds are antihistamines, expectorants, and antitussives. The first to dry up the nose, the second to loosen up mucus, and the third to tell the brain to stop the urge to cough.


I can understand why an antihistamine wouldn't help with a cough. Drying up the nose would hardly help with the lungs. The efficacy of expectorants and the most common antitussive are debatable (here and here).


That's interesting. I didn't know the efficacy was so doubtful.



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  • 4 weeks later...

It depends what excipients (ingredients) are present in the medicine. Many syrups actually increase the intensity of coughing with the idea being that you can remove mucus...the so called expectorant medicines (Carbocisteine for eg.)


Thus, they are effective in reducing the amount of junk but not necessarily going to stop the cough itself. As Modest has pointed out, antitussives are supposed to be designed to stop the cough reflex but there is very little clinical evidence to back that claim up. Most evidence is based on what you would expect with placebo.

Edited by LJP07
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