What Should I Consider When Buying Cough Medicine?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Many people turn to cough medicine when dealing with a nasty cough. Often, the cough is connected to common cold and flu symptoms, and may prevent the individual from getting the rest needed to regain health. However, there are several important points to consider before reaching for the first cough medicine you come across at the drugstore.

Codeine cough syrup is very effective at treating a cough.
Codeine cough syrup is very effective at treating a cough.

Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the fact that over-the-counter medications can sometimes trigger a negative interaction with herbs and prescription medications. Rather than making the situation easier to manage, adding the cough medicine to the mix only makes matters worse. Before buying any type of cough syrup or cough drop throat lozenges, check with your doctor to determine if there is the chance for a negative interaction with any of the prescription medications you currently take.

Coughing will often subside when the root causes of the symptoms are treated.
Coughing will often subside when the root causes of the symptoms are treated.

It is also important to recognize that not every cough medicine is formulated to address every root cause for the cough. Some are formulated as antitussives or cough suppressants. They do nothing to address the origin of the coughing, but simply block the reflex to cough. While antitussives may be helpful in getting an uninterrupted night’s rest, they provide nothing more than temporary relief.

By contrast, expectorants help to thin out mucus that often builds up during the course of a cold or flu. By thinning the mucus, it is easier for the body to expel the substance during the course of coughing. As there is less mucus buildup to trigger the coughing fits, the urge to cough begins to subside. If this is your goal, it is important to select a cough medicine that is an expectorant.

Keep in mind that many brands of cough medicine include other medications that are designed to relieve a host of symptoms. Many contain general pain relievers, antihistamines, and decongestants. If you happen to be allergic to any of these compounds, the cough medicine is likely to do more harm than good.

In many cases, coughing will subside when the root causes for the action are diagnosed and treated. For this reason, it may not be necessary to take a cough medicine at all. Should the cough persist, make an appointment with your doctor. During the course of the visit, find out what types of cough medicine you should take, if any. Your physician can take into consideration any allergies or prescription or over-the-counter medications you currently take and provide you with suggestions for products you can take safely.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I haven't yet figured out how to stop coughing without medicine. So, when I have a persistent cough, I take a cough suppressant at night.

When I had bronchitis, my doctor gave me a strong cough syrup with something in it to help me sleep. It worked so well that I wanted to use it all the time, but I knew this wasn't a good idea.

Bronchitis gave me a really strong cough. I don't think that over-the-counter suppressants could have tackled that one.


My mom gave me a cough expectorant when I was little. I had no idea what it was, but I expected to get relief from my coughing.

Boy, was I surprised! That medicine made me cough my head off! I coughed until my stomach ached.

I did get rid of a lot of phlegm, though. I know I wouldn't have taken it if she had told me what it would do.


@DylanB – Yes, I like the kind of cough medicine that has just about every drug that could help me in it. I buy the kind with a pain reliever to help my sinus pain and alcohol to help me sleep.

It's weird that the medicine combines alcohol with a decongestant, an antihistamine, and a pain reliever. I always thought that alcohol and drugs didn't mix, but I suppose this all depends on the type and the dosage.

The alcohol really knocks me out, or maybe it's the combination of everything. Either way, within 30 minutes of taking the cough medicine, I am so woozy that I can barely walk!

The daytime version of this cough medicine doesn't contain any alcohol. It also doesn't seem to work very well. I think the fact that it lets me get some rest at night is really what helps me feel like I'm getting better.


I have to rely on cough medicine to help me sleep when I'm sick with a cold. I always look for the kind that contains both an antihistamine and a decongestant, because I usually have both a stuffy and runny nose.

It's strange how this can happen, but my nose seems to swell inside and put pressure on my sinuses. At the same time, mucus is flowing constantly.

If a cough medicine only contains an antihistamine, it won't help me much. I need the swelling to go down to relieve the pressure, and only a decongestant can accomplish this.

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