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Cough Medicine and Cough Syrups

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Got a cold and need medicine for a nagging cough? While there is no quick fix for your cough, some over-the-counter (OTC) cough syrups and cough medicines may give you relief.

Three types of cough medicines are available OTC for the temporary relief of cough caused by a cold or bronchitis. These cough medicines include cough suppressants, oral expectorants, and topical (externally applied) drugs.

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Who Should Not Take Cough Medicine or Cough Syrup?

Often, doctors believe that a cough from a cold should not be treated unless it is keeping you up at night or interfering with your activities. Coughing up mucus may help keep your lungs clear. This is especially true if you smoke or have asthma or emphysema.

Dextromethorphan can interact with many medicines including antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft); serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI).  Do not take dextromethorphan if you are on other medication unless cleared by your doctor. In addition, some combination cold and cough medicines contain decongestants. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, avoid taking these drugs. Decongestants can raise blood pressure.

The most important key is to understand how the cough syrup or cough medicine works. That includes knowing what the side effects are. Then talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your cough or cough medicine. Trust your doctor to make the best decision with your overall health in mind.

Which Cough Syrups and Cough Medicines Suppress Coughing?

Cough suppressants relieve your cough by blocking the cough reflex.

Dextromethorphan, or DM, is the most common cough suppressant. Dextromethorphan does not have the pain-relieving and addictive properties of codeine, a narcotic cough suppressant that requires a doctor’s prescription.

If you have a dry, hacking cough, dextromethorphan may give you relief. Generally, these cough syrups and cough medicines are not used to suppress a cough where you cough up mucus. A productive cough helps clear secretions and mucus from the airways. Talk to your doctor if you have a productive cough that’s preventing you from sleeping.

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