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Over-the-counter treatment for cough

Should I treat my cough?
Most of the time, a cough doesn’t require treatment. A cough from a cold or the flu (influenza) will usually go away on its own. Sometimes, cough medicines can be useful if your cough is keeping you awake or interfering with your daytime activities.

Some types of cough should not be treated with cough medicines because the cough is helping to keep your lungs clear so you can breathe. Examples include a cough caused by smoking, emphysema, pneumonia, asthma, or chronic bronchitis.

What types of OTC cough medicines are available?
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are medicines you can buy without a prescription from your doctor. There are 2 types of OTC cough medicines: antitussives and expectorants. A common antitussive is dextromethorphan. The only expectorant available in OTC products is guaifenesin.

Antitussives are cough suppressants. They relieve your cough by blocking the cough reflex. Expectorants thin mucus. This may help your cough clear the mucus from your airway. Drinking extra fluids also helps keep mucus thin.

Talk to your doctor before taking cough medicine if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough that lasts for more than a few weeks (called chronic or long-lasting cough)
  • Wheezing when you cough or breathe. This may mean you need a prescription medicine to treat inflammation (swelling) and narrowing of your airways.


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