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Cough Medicine and Cough Syrups

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How Do Expectorants Stop a Cough?

An expectorant is a drug that thins mucus so you can cough it up easier. While many experts say that drinking water is the most effective way to loosen mucus, you can also use such medications as guaifenesin to thin mucus so it can be cleared from the airway. Clearing thick mucus from the airways can decrease coughing. The most frequent side effect of expectorants is nausea and vomiting.

Do Topical Cough Medicines Stop Coughs?

Camphor and menthol are commonly used topical cough medicines. These natural, aromatic cough medicines are rubbed on the throat and the chest. The anesthetic action of their vapors is thought to ease coughing and soothe stuffiness from a cold.

Camphor and menthol cough medicines are also available for steam inhalation. Menthol is available in lozenges and in compressed tablets.

What’s a Combination Cold and Cough Medicine?

Many OTC cold and cough syrups and cough medicines contain a cough suppressant (dextromethorphan) plus an expectorant (guaifenesin) along with other cold medicines and pain relievers. The combination cold and cough medicine may contain an antihistamine, a decongestant, and a pain reliever in addition to the cough suppressant and/or expectorant. The combination of medicines may give optimal relief if you have multiple cold symptoms, such as body aches, coughs, and congestion. The downside of the combination cold medicines is that you may be taking medication that you don’t need, depending on your symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 11, 2012
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