Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

Do Cough Medicines Work in Kids?

Study Shows Over-the-Counter Varieties Are No More Effective Than Placebo
WebMD Health News

July 6, 2004 -- For kids, and their parents, the most bothersome symptom of respiratory infections is often the miserable cough that accompanies it. Cough is the No. 1 reason for pediatric visits, and billions are spent each year on over-the-counter cough medicines.

Although cough suppressant medications such as codeine and dextromethorphan areeffective in adults, their effectiveness in children hasn't been known. Now, research suggests that over-the-counter cough suppressants may be no more useful for calming a cough in children than simple sugar syrup.

"Nighttime coughing affects the child and the parents. Nobody gets any sleep," lead investigator Ian M. Paul, MD, tells WebMD. "Even so, parents really need to think twice before giving these medications that have doubtful positive effects on their children's symptoms and may have a potential for side effects."

All Kids Improved

The most widely used active ingredient in over-the-counter cough medications, dextromethorphan, is found in Robitussin and more than 120 other over-the-counter cough suppressants.

The antihistamine diphenhydramine is found in Benadryl, which is also used to treat symptoms of respiratory infections.

The study involved 100 children, ages 2-18 years, with a cold and bothersome nighttime coughing treated at practices affiliated with Penn State Hershey Medical Center. The children received either the dextromethorphan-containing medication Benylin, the diphenhydramine-containing drug Diphen AF, or a placebo sugar syrup. Parents were told to give the medications 30 minutes before the child's bedtime, and neither the parents nor the doctors knew which preparation each child was getting.

During the study, all children showed dramatic improvements regardless of which treatment they received. Parents reported that not only did coughing improve, but that everyone slept better once treatment began. The findings are published in the July 1 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Paul tells WebMD the fact that colds improve with time may have more to do with symptom relief than the medicines given to treat it. The children in the study had been sick for an average of four days before treatment was started.

"We know that colds get better with time, and we found that these children improved to a similar extent regardless of the treatment they received," he says.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat