A pharmacist recommends the best over-the-counter medicines for a persistent dry or chesty cough.
By Rita Ghelani (BPharm, MRPharmS)
Coughs will usually clear up on their own within three to four weeks, but persistent coughing can be irritating. There are a number of over-the-counter medicines that can help to ease the symptoms.
Cough medicines are used to treat coughing, which usually occurs when you have an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). The best cough medicine, however, will depend on your symptoms. Cough medicines are usually divided into two categories: those used to treat a chesty cough, and those used to treat a dry or tickly cough.
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.
Best cough medicine for 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.
Medicines for chesty cough
Best cough medicine for 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.
Medicines for dry coughs
Best natural cough remedies
If you’re still not feeling better, these at-home remedies should alleviate the symptoms of a persistent cough:
- Honey tea
Research shows that honey may help to relieve coughing. Try mixing two teaspoons of honey with warm water or herbal tea. However, do not give honey to children under one.
- Drink plenty of fluids
It is important to stay hydrated when fighting off a cold or flu. In addition, research has shown that hot drinks can help to soothe a cough, runny nose or sneezing.
- 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.
- Ginger tea
Thanks to it’s inflammatory properties, ginger may help to relieve a dry or asthmatic cough. A study showed that ginger helped to soothe membranes in the airways, which may relieve coughing. Try a ginger tea with hot water and fresh ginger.
- 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.