You Are At: AllSands Home > Health > Advice > Vital facts about cough medicines
Stop. Don't reach for the cough medicine until you know what you're doing. And certainly don't give it to children or people with addictions until you understand exactly what those ingredients mean.

The first thing to find out is whether your cough mixture is an antitussive or an expectorant. It cannot be both. One cough mixture does not treat all coughs.

An antitussive is a cough mixture that stops the coughing reflex. It is intended for the kind of cough we commonly call dry: that itchy, persistent scratch in the throat. It's often caused by an irritation in the throat, and coughing just makes the irritation worse. So the best remedy is to suppress the body's natural reaction to cough. Antitussives may be addictive, because they work on the cough reflex in the brain.

An expectorant is a cough mixture that assists the coughing reflex. Yes, that's right, it helps you cough more. It is intended for the kind of cough we commonly call wet, or productive: you cough up mucus. Where is that mucus coming from? It's coming from your lungs. What happens if you don't cough it out? You can answer that one yourself.

Your lungs normally produce a certain amount of mucus, which is carried out of the lungs by little hair-like cilia lining the air pipes. It's so natural you don't even notice it. However, if you have an infection, or sometimes just an allergic reaction to something, this can result in a buildup of mucus. Your body's natural reaction is to clear the lungs by coughing. Once the infection has cleared, and the mucus buildup has gone, the coughing will stop by itself and you'll be able to breathe again.

That's step one. Identify what kind of cough you want to treat, and buy the right kind of formulation. Anti-tussives for dry coughs, expectorants for wet coughs. If you want to keep cough mixture in your first aid cupboard, make sure you have one of each.

Step two is to find out more about the other ingredients in a cough mixture. Very few cough mixtures have just one ingredient. Often, the ingredients fight each other instead of working together.

Some cough mixtures have ingredients to help stop pain. This can be useful with both an antitussive and an expectorant. If your throat is sore, you want to soothe the pain. If your lungs are painful from a tight chest caused by inflammation, some pain relief is always welcome. Codeine is often added to cough mixture to help soothe the pain. That's fine - but be aware that codeine is potentially very addictive. It is a derivative of morphine, which is a powerful narcotic painkiller. If you're buying a cough mixture for children or people with addictions, avoid the codeine.

Another ingredient often added to cough mixtures is an antihistamine, which helps fight allergic reactions. It is probably a good combination with an antitussive, where coughing may result from an allergic reaction in the throat. It can happen that lungs fill up with phlegm caused by an allergic post-nasal drip, for example, so don't be surprised to see it in an expectorant.

Some cough mixtures have a bronchodilator added. This is an ingredient that helps widen the air passages in the lungs. It can be a very helpful ingredient when your lungs are filled with mucus, because it gives the mucus room to move so that it can be coughed out more easily. It is completely useless in an antitussive and serves only to increase the price.

Decongestants help soften the phlegm, so that it can move out of the lungs more easily. Once again, these are only appropriate in an expectorant. Your doctor will often advise you to breathe steam when you have a cold or cough: this is a natural way to help decongest a tight chest. Some chemical decongestants, such as ephedrine, also have a natural bronchilatory effect.

Many cough mixtures contain high amounts of sugar. If you are treating a diabetic or someone who has problems with sugar, you should look for a sugar-free product. Cough mixtures may also contain alcohol, often as a preservative. Whether you are naturally pro or anti alcohol, you certainly don't want to give it to a child or an alcoholic.

As you can see, a cough mixture is not as innocent as it seems. Find out what ingredients are in any cough mixture you consider buying, and what exactly they do. The right cough mixture can help solve a coughing problem remarkably quickly. You may even want to ask your doctor to recommend an expectorant and an antitussive for your first-aid needs.

One last word. The cough mixture should help clear the cough quickly. Consult your doctor
1)If the cough lasts for more than a few days
2)If there is blood in the mucus
3)If the mucus stops being clear, ie. it turns yellow or green
4)If a fever develops.

If any of these symptoms develop, your infection has gone beyond the stage of a cough and needs some expert intervention.