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Nonprescription Medicines and Products - Cold and Allergy Remedies

Cough preparations

Coughing is your body's way of getting foreign substances and mucus out of your respiratory tract camera.gif. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough to impair breathing or prevent rest.

There are two types of coughs: productive and nonproductive. A productive cough produces phlegm or mucus (sputum). It's generally best if you don't try to stop (suppress) a productive cough. A nonproductive cough does not produce sputum. It is a dry cough.

Water and other liquids, such as fruit juices, are good cough syrups. They help soothe the throat and also moisten and thin mucus so it can be coughed up more easily.

You can make a simple and soothing cough syrup at home by mixing 1 part lemon juice with 2 parts honey. Use as often as needed. This can be given to children 1 year and older.

There are two kinds of cough medicines:

  • Expectorants help thin the mucus and make it easier to cough mucus up when you have a productive cough. Look for expectorants containing guaifenesin.
  • Suppressants control or suppress the cough reflex and work best for a dry, hacking cough that keeps you awake. Don't suppress a productive cough too much (unless it is keeping you from getting enough rest).

Cough preparation precautions

  • Cough preparations can cause problems for people who have certain health problems, such as asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, or an enlarged prostate (BPH). Cough preparations may also interact with sedatives, certain antidepressants, and other medicines. Read the package carefully, or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose.
  • Cough suppressants can stifle breathing. Use them with caution if you are older than 60 or if you have chronic respiratory problems.
  • Be careful with cold medicines. They may not be safe for young children, so check the label first. If you do give these medicines to a child, always follow the directions about how much to give based on the child's age and weight.
  • Read the label so you know what the ingredients are. Some cough preparations contain a large percentage of alcohol, and others contain codeine. There are many choices. Ask your pharmacist to advise you.
  • Avoid cold remedies that combine medicines to treat many symptoms.
  • Avoid alcohol if you are taking medicine with dextromethorphan in it.
  • If you are pregnant, check with your doctor or pharmacist before using a cough preparation.
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