JAN 06, 2017 3:18 PM PST

How Well do Cough Medicines Really Work?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Coughs are among one of the most common, yet non-specific, medical symptoms. They send about 30 million people to the doctor's office every year, while countless more probably self-medicate at home with over-the-counter cough medicine. But while cough medicines are the ubiquitous go-to drug, how many of us can accurately say that these drugs actually lessen our coughing?

According to some reviews, most cough medicines that contain suppressants to block your cough reflex, and expectorants to loosen airway mucus aren't very effective. "We've never had good evidence that cough suppressants and expectorants help with cough," says Norman Edelman, MD, senior scientific advisor at the American Lung Association. "But people are desperate to get some relief. They're so convinced that they should work that they buy them anyway."

Watch the video to learn why these chemicals don't appear to stop the coughing.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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