Great Cough Syrup Con: Medicines we Buy from the Chemist have Virtually No Effect, Say Scientists

It’s the news no one suffering from a terrible winter cold wants to hear – but cough medicines are virtually useless, scientists claim.

Nothing you can buy over the counter will ward off a hacking and persistent cough, a review of the evidence has found.

Pharmacy cough medicines work little better than a placebo, while other remedies such as echinacea, vitamin C and zinc are not likely to help either. A review of studies on cough medicine found that in 15 of 19 cases, it either had no benefit or the results were conflicting. Researchers from the American Chemical Society said that, at best, all the expectorants and cough suppressants lining pharmacy shelves can offer is a good night’s sleep from drowsiness.

Only cough drops were proven to work, although boiled sweets would have the same throat-soothing effect, the experts said. Honey and lemon has also been found to help children with a cough, but it should only be given from the age of one.

In a video published online, the researchers said: ‘There is very little evidence that cough syrup is effective at treating coughs and carefully proofed clinical trials show that these medications are generally no better than placebo.’ The cough, cold and sore throat medicines market in Britain is worth more than £400million a year. Active ingredients include dextromethorphan (DXM), which blocks the cough reflex but can also make you very drowsy.

Both Boots’ Dry Cough and Congestion Relief and Covonia’s Original Bronchial Balsam contain DXM. Also available are expectorants such as guaifenesin – used in Benylin Mucus Cough Plus Decongestant Syrup – which are said to loosen mucus in the chest. However, a respected Cochrane Review from 2014 also found ‘no good evidence for or against’ the use of over-the-counter cough syrups.

The cough, cold and sore throat medicines market in Britain is worth more than £400million a year
The cough, cold and sore throat medicines market in Britain is worth more than £400million a year

John Smith, chief executive of the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which represents over-the-counter medicine manufacturers, said it was difficult to test the efficacy of ingredients because of the different types of cough.

He added: ‘It’s important to remember that cough medicines will not “cure” a cough.

‘If used in accordance with the instructions … then cough medicines are a safe way to help relieve the symptoms of a cough.’

By Victoria Allen
Source: Daily Mail UK

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