A cough syrup is a liquid medicine which is used to treat persistent cough, whether the cough is wet (resulting in release of phlegm) or dry induced by a variety of reasons. Wet coughs (which produce phlegm) are quite common when one is infected by the cold virus are usually treated with expectorants, to make the mucus from the respiratory tract loose enough to be expectorated or spat out. Dry coughs are typically treated with cough suppressants (antitussives) in an attempt to suppress the body’s urge to cough. It is important to remember that coughing is the body’s reaction to clear the lungs of undesirables, hence it is not such a bad thing, though it may be irritating. But continuous cough whether dues to a variety of conditions like cold, flu, lung infections, etc., can be reduced by using cough medicines like expectorants.
Over the counter cough syrups are available plentifully worldwide, but the medical fraternity has issued a word of caution, not to indulge in the use of these expectorants liberally and without restrain, whether with children or adults, particularly those containing codeine. Codeine has been found to be addictive and its long term use leads to unhealthy physical and mental dependence. A few studies have come out strongly against over-the-counter expectorants being used by children below the age of 6 years, because of the concerns regarding their effect on the overall growth and development of children.
Best Cough Syrups
Over-the-counter cough medicines and those sold through prescriptions from qualified doctors, are plentifully available in most countries. But the moot point is to consult a doctor before purchasing such expectorant syrup. Diagnosis of the ailment, leading to persistent cough is of paramount important, so that the most appropriate cough medicine can be chosen, which would act on the root cause of the problem of persistent cough.
Codeine based cough Syrups
These were considered the best cough syrups or the gold standard in expectorants a few years back, as they had a mechanism which was very effective in cough suppression. But the verdict of late has turned against it, because of its increasing misuse and abuse due to codeine’s addictive properties. It is not recommended for children, as a few placebo trials have found that it is no better than placebo’s in treating persistent cough in children. Increasingly the medical fraternity is cautioning against the use of codeine based cough syrup, though they remain the most popular syrups available worldwide.
Non-Codeine based Cough Medicines
DXM or Dextromethorphan has been found to be effective, albeit modestly in decreasing cough in adults with viral induced respiratory infections. It acts on the medulla in the brain to control cough. Its antitussive properties are considered to be as effective as those found in codeine. But it has not been found to be effective in treating cough in children.
Another cough based expectorant is Bromhexine, which is found to treat the mucus formation in the initial states. It is effective in breaking down the structure of the mucus fibers, thereby loosening the mucus which can be expectorated or spat out. This medicine is effective when taken early in the initial stages.
Another effective expectorant is Acetyl cysteine based, which helps in breaking down the phlegm formed in the lungs through a chemical reaction. This has a near similar effect as an expectorant and is available over-the-counter in a few countries.
Ephedrine is another cough based medicine which is used widely in suppressing cough. Its popularity as an herb has seen its widespread use in Chinese herbal medicines for battling cough and other respiratory conditions. The herb Ma Huang present in Ephedrine has been used in ancient Chinese and Japanese medicines to combat cough. The best thing about this cough syrup is that it does not produce any side effects, even when consumed over a period of time.
Benadryl-diphenhydramine is another expectorant which is fairly popular in treating dry cough. But it also makes a person feel drowsy, and thus not actively prescribed by doctors to adults who are always on the move.
Honey based cough liquids are also very popular in many countries as a natural way to treat cough. Given honey’s soothing action on the infected respiratory tract, it has been found to be very effective in treating wet as well as dry cough. But it is cautioned that it may not be used in infants of 1 year or less.
A Few Popular Brands for Children and Adults
Cough Medicines for Children
- Natrabio Children’s Cough Syrup
- Hyland’s Baby Cough Syrup
- Sugar Free Elderberry Syrup
Cough Medicines for Adults
- Robitussin’s Peak Cold Maximum Cough and Chest Congestion
- Boericke And Tafel Nighttime Cough and Bronchial Syrup
- Chestal Cough Honey
Of late there has been a growing concern among the members of the medical fraternity regarding the easy availability of over-the-counter expectorants. Its uncontrolled, unbridled and unabated use has been linked to several cases of unhealthy outcomes. In fact the most popular cough syrup, Corex manufactured by Pfizer Inc. (and available mostly in South and South East Asia) has been found to be illegally stocked in several Asian countries, and is found to be used for its addictive properties as a drug, rather than as a cough medicine to treat persistent cough. In fact, a few countries have taken off Corex from the list of over-the-counter medicines, and have made it mandatory for drug stores to give it to people strictly on a doctor’s prescription.
Cough medicines have their use in suppressing persistent cough, and providing comfort temporarily, but just like medicines prescribed for common cold, they do not provide complete cure. Cough, whether is wet or dry needs to be diagnosed properly, by a qualified medical professional, as to its precise cause, before embarking on a treatment routine or procedure. But like popping painkillers, folks typically depend a lot on over-the-counter liquid syrups, when wracked by bouts of cough, than completely overlooking the importance of taking the advice of a qualified medical professional like a doctor.
Repeatedly studies have shown that consuming cough syrups on the whim to suppress cough, is akin to popping painkillers to get rid of pain (painkillers have been found to cause severe kidney problems if used for long periods), long term use of cough syrups (though unsubstantiated as yet by clinical research), may lead to undesirable ailments in otherwise healthy adults and children.