Do cough suppressants work to get rid of a cough?

Gerard W. Frank, MD
Pulmonary Disease
Cough suppressants are not meant to be used for long periods of time but can be effective in alleviating coughs.

One cough suppressant is Mucinex, which contains the same medicine as Robitussin -- guaifenesin, which is actually an expectorant. Expectorants are designed to help loosen thick mucus that can't be coughed up.

Narcotics, such as codeine, will also suppress coughs. A number of cough medicines contain codeine. A number of cough medicines also contain dextromethorphan or DM; this is not a narcotic, but it works as well as codeine. The most commonly used cough suppressant is Phenergan with DM. Phenergan is an antihistamine, so this drug provides both the antihistamine effect and the dextromethorphan suppressant effect. The problem with antihistamines is that they can make you sleepy. They should not be used during the day, particularly if you have to drive or go to work. Tessalon Perles is a little gelatin capsule that suppresses coughs, but it contains no antihistamine or narcotics to make you drowsy.

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