Cough medicines not helpful

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Cough medicines not helpful

New guidelines recommend avoiding cough medicines for coughs due to upper respiratory tract infection.

What happened? Guidelines on the diagnosis and management of cough recommend avoiding the use of over-the-counter cough medicines for coughs related to upper respiratory infections, such as colds and flu. The newly released guidelines, developed by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), say that over-the-counter cough expectorants and suppressants don't treat the underlying cause of the cough, and often don't help relieve symptoms. Having reviewed the available evidence, the ACCP advises that cough medicines appear to be of limited use. Guidelines strongly recommend against using over-the-counter cough or cold medicines in any child under 14 years of age, citing safety concerns for this age group.

The authors of the guidelines do suggest using antihistamines with a decongestant to reduce cough — if anything at all. Research supports the use of antihistamines that contain a decongestant, available over-the-counter. These medications help dry up the cough-triggering symptoms of postnasal drip.

What does it mean to you? Cough medicines remain safe, if used as directed, and are still readily available over-the-counter. However, if your cough is related to an upper respiratory tract infection you may get more relief from an antihistamine with a decongestant. But, a word of caution, some decongestants may aggravate high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure or another chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes, talk with your doctor before taking cough medicines or decongestants.

Most coughs eventually improve in a week or two with or without treatment. If your cough persists longer than that, or if it's associated with high fever or shortness of breath, the cause may be a more serious infection or another chest condition, so see your doctor.

Last Updated: 01/12/2006
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