Reader Question: I've heard that OTC cough medicines don't work. Is there anything that does?
On Call Response: You're right: Most OTC cough medicines aren't effective. In fact, the latest guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians say that "there is no evidence that cough suppressant therapy can prevent coughing"—though not all doctors agree. If you want to give OTC cough meds a try, go ahead, but you might have better luck with prescription cough remedies such as Bromfed and Bromfenex, which provide a sustained release of an antihistamine (brompheniramine) as well as the decongestant pseudoephedrine. These "first generation" antihistamines are able to penetrate the brain and attach to chemical receptors that help reduce coughing. (Warning: They also make you sleepy.) Another prescription remedy, Atrovent (an inhaled preparation of ipratropium bromide), may also provide relief from a cough caused by an upper respiratory infection.
When it comes to kids, you may have heard that many cough medicines are dangerous and are being pulled from drugstore shelves. The good news: New research shows that a teaspoon of honey may help alleviate coughing in children (just don't give it to kids younger than 1 year).
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