Millions of Americans use cough medicines every year to help reduce the symptoms of colds. But do cough medicines even work? Or do they only make you fall asleep and forget how bad you feel? There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding cough medicines, and they may lead you to feel confused when trying to decide whether to use one while recovering from an illness. To help you decide if cough medicines are worth using, we’ll explore the science behind these types of products, break down the most common myths, and help you figure out how to choose the right one.
Do Common Cough Medicines Really Work?
The so-called best cough medicines you’ll find at the grocery store claim to make you feel better thanks to common cough medicine ingredients like Dextromethorphan, often referred to as DM or DXM, expectorants, and antihistamines. These drugs are designed to block the cough reflex, thin mucus and reduce inflammation in the nose and throat. Despite these claims, studies show that there is no evidence that over-the-counter cold and flu medicines actually suppress or stop coughing when compared to placebo.1 Even worse, the harsh chemicals found in these cough medicines may actually cause harmful side effects like dry mouth, grogginess and jitteriness as well as contraindications. Even the ingredients designed to help you feel better simply mask your symptoms while contributing to an accumulation of toxins in the system.2
Cough Medicine Myths
Before deciding if medication is right for you, we’ve rounded up some of the most common myths and misconceptions around cough medicine.
MYTH: Cough medications containing DXM, expectorants or antihistamines help cure coughs and colds. As stated above, studies show that cough medications only mask symptoms, distracting you with side effects like sleepiness until your body recovers. When compared to placebo, these drugs did not actually make people feel better.
MYTH: Antibiotics cure coughs associated with the common cold. Antibiotics are only useful when treating bacterial infection while most colds and coughs are caused by viruses.
MYTH: Codeine, a powerful narcotic, is an effective drug to suppress coughing. Doctors commonly prescribe the narcotic codeine to reduce cough in patients with upper respiratory tract infections, but studies show that codeine is actually ineffective at relieving coughing.3 Codeine has also been shown to cause gastrointestinal upset, making matters worse. Even more seriously, codeine is a controlled substance associated with a high risk for addiction and dependence. It can cause respiratory distress and even death when taken in high doses or when combined with other substances, especially alcohol.
Choosing the Right Cough Medicine
When battling a cough or cold, experts say that sticking to natural remedies may actually make you feel better than the most commonly sold cough medications on the market. These include drinking plenty of fluids, getting adequate sleep, using a humidifier, and consuming honey and lemon (except for children under the age of one). There’s even evidence that backs up the classic claim of eating chicken soup when you’re feeling unwell.4
Even more, a homeopathic medication like Brillia Health can help by taking a different approach as a cough medication than the ones you may be more familiar with. Using antibody science to precisely target the macromolecules in your system that help respond to illnesses, Brillia Health’s Cough Control uses active ingredients designed to target histamines, bradykinin and morphine, which all play a role in the development of a cough. When these antibodies bind to these three molecules, they effectively reduce inflammation, congestion and fluid buildup in the lungs. This combined effort results in a reduction of the severity and frequency of cough, positively affecting our quality of life. Cough Control doesn’t just reduce a wet or dry cough, it also alleviates the stress normally put on the body by a persistent cough, allowing the body to fight off the cause of cough quickly and efficiently. This is achieved without harsh chemicals, so you specifically target the very source of the symptoms without the undesirable side effects associated with other OTC drugs like drowsiness, grogginess or jitteriness. Brillia Health’s Cough Control product includes three specific antibodies to control histamine response, reduce the frequency and severity of coughs and relieve sore throat pain and irritation.
Though Brillia Health products are new to the US market, they have been used by millions of children and adults in Europe for nearly a decade with great success. These products are clinically proven to reduce the duration of the illness, so that you get well faster, and feel better in the process.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles and a mother of one. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.