Looking for the magic bullet to treat their cough, to sleep through the night, and to wake up feeling 100%? Sorry for the bad news but when it comes to treating a cough, the options are limited and quite frankly, not great. As an ER doctor the brutal truth can be nasty, and this is up there with sore throats and sciatica for conditions that we just cannot treat well. Here are some points to show you why not to waste your money on certain treatments, but why other methods may give you at least a little comfort:
- Most colds and coughs are caused by viruses, not bacteria, and therefore antibiotics are not effective.
- Over-the-counter medications may provide temporary symptom relief from certain cold symptoms such as congestion and runny nose, but evidence suggests that they are not effective at treating a cough. However, you may find that decongestants will reduce that annoying post-nasal drip that tickles your throat and, in turn, stave off the cough.
- A systematic review of studies published in the journal Chest found that the most commonly used treatments for coughs, such as guaifenesin, dextromethorphan, and expectorants, were not effective in reducing coughs or improving cough-related quality of life (1).
- Another study published in the journal Pediatrics examined the effectiveness of over-the-counter cough medications in children and found that medications containing codeine, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, and guaifenesin had no impact on cough symptoms (2). In short, don’t waste your money on Mucinex!
So what can you do?
- As stated above, I recommend that you aggressively treat any congestion with pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and oxymetazoline (Afrin) as directed. This will reduce upper airway secretions that may irritate you and cause a cough.
- Try NOT to cough! This may seem like a silly recommendation, but so often I hear people trying to “get the mucus out.” What you are really doing is causing more irritation and inflammation, which causes more mucus, and more cough. Try not to hack violently and when you must cough, try to do it gently.
- Suck on cough drops or drink tea with honey. Don’t expect dramatic relief, but anything to distract from the irritation and desire to cough will help a bit.
- What about inhalers such as albuterol? If you have a history of asthma or have any associated wheezing, you may benefit from this inhaler. These are not over the counter and require evaluation by a medical professional, so please don’t just use the inhaler of a friend or family laying around!
If all else fails and you need to be seen or if you are worried that you have a more serious condition, call your doctor or for prompt treatment call us at Bay Mobile Care!