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

OTC Medicines for Cough: What You Need to Know

Font Size

Is a hacking cough making you feel lousy? Don't grab a random box of cough medicine off the pharmacy shelf. Just a few basics will guide you to an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine for the kind of cough you have.

All Medicines Aren't the Same

The role of cough medicine is to ease symptoms while your body heals.

As a glance at the drugstore shelves will show you, there are many, many brands of OTC cough medicines. But there are only three basic types:

Expectorants help thin mucus, making it easier to cough up. The ingredient guaifenesin is the only expectorant in the U.S., so look for it on the label if you need an expectorant.

Suppressants help cut the number of times you cough. The active ingredient listed is usually dextromethorphan (DM). Other cough suppressants include camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol.

Combination cough products have more than one active ingredient. They have both guaifenesin and dextromethorphan. Cough medicines may also contain ingredients to help coat and soothe the throat.

Combination products may have medicines to ease other symptoms, that may include decongestants for stuffy nose, antihistamines for allergies or a runny nose, or painkillers. Choose a medicine that matches your symptoms.

Cough drops can also help relieve a cough and may ease a sore throat.

Recommended For You

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