Cough Suppressants

Cough Suppressants



Cough suppressants are medicines that prevent or stop coughing.


Cough suppressants act on the center in the brain that controls the cough reflex. They are meant to be used only to relieve dry, hacking coughs associated with colds and flu. They should not be used to treat coughs that bring up mucus or the chronic coughs associated with smoking, asthma, emphysema or other lung problems.
Many cough medicines contain cough suppressants along with other ingredients. Some combinations of ingredients may cancel each other's effects. One example is the combination of cough suppressant with an expectorant—a medicine that loosens and clears mucus from the airways. The cough suppressant interferes with the ability to cough up the mucus that the expectorant loosens.


The cough suppressant described here, dextromethorphan, is an ingredient in many cough medicines, such as Vicks Formula 44, Drixoral Cough Liquid Caps, Sucrets Cough Control, Benylin DM and some Robitussin products. These medicines come in capsule, tablet, lozenge, and liquid forms and are available without a physician's prescription.

Recommended dosage:

Regular (short-acting) capsules, lozenges, syrups, or tablets:
  • adults and children over 12: 10-30 mg every four to eight hours, as needed
  • children six to 12: 5-15 mg every four to eight hours, as needed
  • children two to six: 2.5-7.5 mg every four to eight hours, as needed (Children under six should not be given lozenges containing dextromethorphan because of the high dose of dextromethorphan in each lozenge.)
  • children under two: check with child's physician
For extended-release oral suspension:
  • adults and children over 12: 60 mg every 12 hours, as needed
  • children six to 12: 30 mg every 12 hours, as needed
  • children two to six: 15 mg every 12 hours, as needed
  • children under two: check with child's physician


Do not take more than the recommended daily dosage of dextromethorphan.
Dextromethorphan is not meant to be used for coughs associated with smoking, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or other lung conditions. It also should not be used for coughs that produce mucus.
A lingering cough could be a sign of a serious medical condition. Coughs that last more than seven days or are associated with fever, rash, sore throat, or lasting headache should have medical attention. Call a physician as soon as possible.
People with phenylketonuria should be aware that some products with dextromethorphan also contain the artificial sweetener aspartame, which breaks down in the body to phenylalanine.
Anyone who has asthma or liver disease should check with a physician before taking dextromethorphan.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or who plan to become pregnant should check with their physicians before taking dextromethorphan.
The dye tartrazine is an ingredient in some cough suppressant products. This dye causes allergic reactions in some people, especially those who are allergic to aspirin.

Side effects

Side effects are rare, but may include nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, slight drowsiness, and dizziness.


Patients who take monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors) should be aware that the co-administration of products containing dextromethorphan can cause dizziness, fainting, fever, nausea and possibly coma. Do not take dextromethorphan unless a physician permits the use of the two drugs together.
When dextromethorphan is taken with medicines that cause drowsiness, this effect may be enhanced.

Key terms

Asthma — A disease in which the air passages of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed.
Bronchitis — Inflammation of the air passages of the lungs.
Chronic — A word used to describe a long-lasting condition. Chronic conditions often develop gradually and involve slow changes.
Emphysema — An irreversible lung disease in which breathing becomes increasingly difficult.
Mucus — Thick fluid produced by the moist membranes that line many body cavities and structures.
Phenylketonuria (PKU) — A genetic disorder in which the body lacks an important enzyme. If untreated, the disorder can lead to brain damage and mental retardation.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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This is one of the reasons for their abuse and misuse." Dr Pawluck described some commonly abused OTC medications, such as certain classes of cough suppressants, antihistamine drugs and decongestants.
Pawluck described some commonly abused OTC medications, such as certain classes of cough suppressants, antihistamine drugs and decongestants that are abused to obtain effects such as feelings of euphoria, stimulation or sedation.
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Unlike cough suppressants, ambroxol doesn't obstruct the body's response to cough.
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The company points out that drugstores offer over 300 cold and flu products that combine just four types of ingredients, including decongestants, pain and fever reducers, cough suppressants, and expectorants (mucus thinners).
Cough suppressants are usually effective in relieving a troublesome cough.
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So a medicine that can actually be taken by children and which helps fight viral infections is going further than over-the-counter cough suppressants and nasal decongestants--it's actually helping fight the underlying infection, not just masking symptoms.