OTC Cough Medicine


OTC Cough Medications




Over the counter (OTC) cough medications come in the form of capsules, tablets, gel caps, lozenges, and syrups, and are readily available and commonly used every day.

Please keep in mind that the types of cough remedies addressed on this website are related to common cough conditions and are intended to serve as a source of general information as stated in our disclaimer policy. If you have any questions or concerns regarding which cough remedy is best for you be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

There are different schools of thought as to whether cough medications are helpful or not.  Many doctors say that cough medicine does not have any affect, while others will recommend an expectorant cough medication to help rid the respiratory tract of phlegm, or if a patient is unable to sleep due to excessive coughing they may recommend a cough suppressant to help the individual get some needed rest.

The general consensus regarding the use of cough medications by children is that most doctors today generally advise against OTC cough medicines for children and cough medications are no longer approved at all for children under the age of four.  Don’t give children cough medications without checking with your pediatrician first.

OTC Cough Remedy Tips

More recently, in February 2012, the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI), headquartered in New York, released results of a new survey reporting that two-thirds of U.S. adults using OTC cough medicines found relief for cough symptoms by means of OTC cough medication.  This group of consumer individuals reported that as a result they were able to remain productive with their normal responsibilities.

When using OTC cough medications, be sure to read the labels carefully and follow instructions.  A common problem occurs simply by misuse of these products, for example, taking cough syrup too frequently.  Regardless, if you experience any unusual side affects be sure to contact your doctor or pharmacist right away.  Side affects involving the cardiovascular and nervous system can occur but are extremely  rare.

Other considerations as to whether to use OTC cough remedies are existing health conditions and/or current prescription medications which may result in adverse side affects.  It is also to important to be aware that some cough medications may cause lightheadedness or drowsiness making it unsafe to drive or use heavy equipment.  Many OTC medications contain artificial sweeteners and food dyes.


Over the Counter Cough Suppressants

The most common active ingredient in over the counter cough suppressants is dextromethorphan (DM or DXM), which is available under many reputable brand name cough medicines.  Over the counter suppressants can be found in liquid or pill form, as well as in cough drops.

Cough suppressants help quiet a cough by blocking the cough reflex center in the brain.

Some popular name brand cough suppressants are:

  • Delsym 12-hour liquid
  • Mucinex DM
  • Sudafed Cold & Cough

Make sure to follow the instructions on the label and be careful to avoid overuse by taking dosages too frequently.  There has been a rising trend among teens in the abuse of OTC cough medicine containing dextromethorphan so parents should store this type of medicine in a secure location.

Should you check with a doctor before using a cough suppressant?
Over the counter (OTC) cough suppressants commonly contain dextromethorphan, commonly identified as DM on most cough medicines available for purchase in stores.  Additionally, many OTC cough medicines will often include decongestants which can raise blood pressure.  Individuals with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or if pregnant or nursing, should consult with their doctor before taking any medicines for cough.

Watch the following video for more pointers on when to check with your doctor about a cough.


Over the Counter Cough Expectorants

Over the counter expectorants can be found in liquid or pill form. The active ingredient in over the counter expectorants is guaifenesin, which helps thin and break up the mucus. Follow the label instructions and be sure to drink plenty of fluids if you are using a cough remedy with this ingredient. Commonly recommended cough expectorants by many doctors are:

  • Mucinex Expectorant



  • Robitussin Expectorant



  • Vicks Expectorant



Over the Counter Cough Drops

Over the counter cough drops can provide fast, temporary relief, especially when you’re experiencing a sudden cough attack.  OTC cough drops are convenient and effective but there are a number of factors to take into consideration when choosing which cough drop is best for your needs. For example, do you want a lozenge with benzocaine, menthol, eucalyptus oil, honey, sugar, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, food dyes?  Which are safe for children?  Are herbal and natural cough drops effective?  How many cough drops can you safely take? Another option you may want to consider is to make your own homemade cough drops. For helpful tips on choosing the right cough drop please visit our page  which covering complete information on Cough Drops.  

Resource Link

BBC Report on Cough Medicines

2 Responses to “OTC Cough Medicine”

  1. Brian says:

    Is it ok to take an over the counter cough medicine with other medications?

    • Lee says:

      Not sure what medication you’re taking, but cough medicines with dextromethorphan (DM) can interact with certain medications; for example, SSRI & SNRI antidepressant medications: like Paxil, Lexapro, Zoloft, Venlafaxine, etc.

      Also if you take medication for heart problems or high blood pressure, cough medications that contain decongestants should be avoided.

      If you’re on any medication it is advisable to check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it’s safe to use an OTC cough medicine (or any OTC medication for that matter).

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