Do Cough Syrups Work?

By: Tony Tagliavia
By: Tony Tagliavia

A new report from the American College of Chest Physicians shows there is no evidence over-the-counter cough suppressants actually work to reduce cough symptoms.

Local medical experts say the conclusions aren't much of a surprise.

"For a long time, all of us have questioned: are these things effective?" Dr. John Wycoff said.

Wycoff, of Lansing's Sparrow Hospital, says the results of the study make sense to him.

According to the study, the cough suppressing and 'expectorant' ingredients in products like Robitussin, Dimetapp and Triaminic aren't particularly effective, at least in the doses found over-the-counter. It doesn't come as a shock to Lansing pharmacist Polly Cove either.

"When there was prescription expectorant, a lot of insurance companies wouldn't pay for them because there was no evidence to show that they worked," Cove said.

What does help? Researchers point to drugs you might take to fight the everyday cold, like pseudoeffedrine, the ingredient in Sudafed. Another source for cough relief according to researchers is anti-histamines, the active ingredient in the allergy drug Benadryl.

Both pseudoeffedrine and anti-histamines can clear up the nasal drip that causes some coughs.

Doctors say there is a chance cough syrups like Robitussin have given people some real relief. That's at least in part because drugmakers often pair the ingredients of cough medicine with drugs to fight a cold or allergies, the same drugs the new study shows can stop you from coughing.

Still, medical experts say while some over-the-counter drugs can give you a little relief, the cough will probably run its course with or without medicines.

"Lots of rest, and vitamins, and be in good shape. And, you know, chicken noodle soup's actually been shown to be more effective then cough suppressants," Cove said.

The study is published in the journal "Chest."

Despite general agreement with the conclusions of the study, local medical experts say if the symptoms of a cough go on for several weeks, it's best to talk to your doctor.


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