Harvard Health Letter

No coughing matter

Cough experts say many over-the-counter medications probably aren't worth the money.

A quick gulp of air, that onomatopoeic KA-offing out: the cough is one of our basic defense mechanisms. This reflex and that unceremonious expulsion of air, mucus, and microbes spares us all sorts of infectious and inflammatory pulmonary misadventures.

But who hasn't had too much of a good thing? When the hacking becomes relentless, it can keep us up, wear us out, and lay us low. So we make 30 million trips to the doctor each year seeking relief from coughs and spend roughly $3.5 billion annually on over-the-counter (OTC) pills, capsules, and syrups for cough- and cold-related woes.

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