Americans spend $3.5 billion annually on over-the-counter cough
remedies. Experts say much of this money is wasted. Guidelines released
by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) earlier this year
indicate that many of the "active" ingredients in cough remedies may be
ineffective, reports the May issue of the Harvard Health Letter.
are many nonprescription cough medicines, but most contain the same
types of active ingredients in a limited number of strengths and
combinations. Here are the four main ones:
- Expectorants work by thinning mucus. Studies of their effectiveness vary, and the ACCP “cough committee” didn’t endorse them.
work by dampening the cough reflex. They provide short-term relief for
chronic bronchitis symptoms, but aren’t as effective on coughs caused
- Decongestants work by
constricting blood vessels, which shrinks swollen membranes and allows
more air to pass through nasal passages. Decongestants can be effective
in the short run, but they can cause side effects, and you can become
dependent on decongestants in the form of nose drops.
- Antihistamines help regardless of whether a cold or allergies is responsible for the cough.
what should you take? The new guidelines advise leaving the cough and
cold medicine section and buying an allergy medicine instead. Choose
one that combines an older antihistamine (like brompheniramine,
diphenhydramine, or chlorpheniramine) with a decongestant.
the other hand, if you think a cold or cough medicine works, it
probably won’t hurt you to stick with it, even if what you’re paying
for is a placebo effect rather than a proven remedy, states the Harvard Health Letter.