Hydrocodone treatment falls into two main categories: pain relief and cough suppressant. The drug treats mild to moderate pain in patients who fail to get relief from other medications. As an antitussive used to suppress coughing, hydrocodone treatment is commonly prescribed for patients who suffer adverse side effects from codeine. Studies show hydrocodone treatment for coughs might be six to 12 times stronger than codeine formulas. When used for pain, the drug might be prescribed in various dosages for different levels of pain.
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic, opiate agonist that binds to receptors in the spinal column and brain to block pain sensations. Some cancer patients use hydrocodone treatment to alleviate severe pain, especially when morphine or codeine fails to provide relief. This therapy might also be prescribed to treat chronic back pain from degenerative diseases or injury.
The medication can become habit-forming if used over a long period or in high doses. It also represents a commonly abused drug among illegal drug users and is regulated in many regions. Hydrocodone is usually combined with acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. In an effort to prevent abuse or overdose, some hydrocodone compounds include other substances that make the user ill if he or she exceeds the recommended dosage.
Hydrocodone treatment with acetaminophen might cause liver and kidney damage over time. Symptoms of liver disease include dark urine, yellow skin and eyes, and abdominal pain, with or without nausea and vomiting. Anyone with a liver disorder or trouble urinating should tell his or her doctor about the problem before using hydrocodone.
Long-term users of this medication might also experience a loss of sexual desire or inability to obtain an erection. It may decrease testosterone in men, leading to infertility in some patients. One study of terminal cancer patients found decreased testosterone levels in 90 percent of study participants who received hydrocodone treatment for pain.
Other common side effects of hydrocodone include constipation, dizziness, and drowsiness. Some patients might become fatigued and lethargic while using the drug. If symptoms develop that cause mental confusion, anxiety, or depression, they should be discussed with a doctor. Other serious side effects that may indicate an overdose include clammy skin, trouble breathing, and coma, and may lead to death in extreme cases.
Although hydrocodone treatment is prescribed in pregnancy, some health experts advise against its use in the third trimester. There are reported cases of babies born addicted to the drug who go through withdrawal symptoms, including excessive crying and restlessness. Hydrocodone also passes through breast milk to a nursing child.