The best over the counter cough medicines 2020


Our resident pharmacist recommends the best over-the-counter medicines for a persistent cough.

By Rita Ghelani (BPharm, MRPharmS)

Can’t shake that nasty cough? Coughs usually clear up on their own within 3-4 weeks, but there are a number of medicines that can help to ease the symptoms.

Our resident pharmacist Rita Ghelani recommends the following over-the-counter medicines to treat both a chesty cough and a dry tickly cough:

What is a cough?

There are two main types of cough – a chesty cough or dry tickly cough. A cough is often associated with the symptoms of cold or flu. It can last for over a week and is often the last symptom to clear up after a chest infection.


A cough is a reflex brought on by irritation of the respiratory lining in the lungs, windpipe and throat. It’s the body’s way of removing the irritation and while a persistent cough can be frustrating and uncomfortable, it’s usually not related to anything more serious.

Chesty Coughs

A chesty cough occurs as a result of too much mucus being produced, which may be thick and difficult to cough up. Using medicines containing active ingredients such as guaifenesin, ipecacuanha, ammonium chloride and squill can help to break up any excess mucus that may have accumulated. These ingredients are known as expectorants.

Dry Coughs

For a dry tickly cough, an over the counter medicine containing a cough suppressant to block the natural coughing reflex, such as pholcodine and dextromethorphan, should help.

Natural cough remedies

If you’re still not feeling better, these at-home remedies should alleviate the symptoms of a persistent cough:

  • Drink plenty of fluids

Hot drinks made with honey and lemon can soothe a cough.

  • Stream inhalation

Pour boiling water into a large bowl and try inhaling some stream with a tea towel over your head to loosen up mucus in your airways.

  • Suck a lozenge or cough sweet

Lozenges and cough sweets will keep the back of the throat moist to soothe a cough.

  • Try vitamin supplements

Supplements including zinc, vitamin C and echinacea may boost your immune system.

  • Gargle warm salt water

Salt water should help clear away viruses and bacteria at the back of the throat.

Net Doctor


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