According to a panel of experts in the U.S. cough medicines bought over the counter do little good and may in fact harm children.
In guidelines issued by the American College of Chest Physicians it advises adults to use the older non prescription antihistamines and decongestants to stop the flow of mucus that causes the cough; they say nonprescription cough remedies do little more than offer comfort to desperate patients.
Dr. Richard Irwin of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who chaired the guidelines panel, says a cough is the most common reason why patients seek medical attention.
Irwin says there is no clinical evidence that over-the-counter cough expectorants or suppressants do in fact relieve coughs, but there is ample evidence that older type antihistamines do help to reduce a cough.
He advises that unless there are contraindications for using these medicines, they are a proven alternative.
Panel member Dr. Peter Dicpinigaitis, who runs a cough clinic at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, says although cough medications might help some patients, they carry the risk of oversedation and can be especially dangerous to children.
Dicpinigaitis advises the use of the older-generation antihistamines that work against coughs which include chlorpheniramine, newer, brand-name antihistamines such as Claritin and Zyrtec will not apparently help with coughs.
Under the new guidelines, adults with acute cough or upper airway cough syndrome, commonly known as postnasal drip, are advised to use an older variety of antihistamine with a decongestant.
Irwin says that while coughs in children are common and a concern and often annoying, cough and cold medicines are not useful and may actually be harmful.
He says that in most cases, a cough that is unrelated to chronic lung conditions, environmental influences, or other specific factors, will resolve itself.
Researchers reported back in July of 2004 that neither dextromethorphan, often listed on labels as DM, or diphenhydramine, an antihistamine, gave any more relief to children suffering from cough than sugar water and showed that children usually recovered quickly whatever the treatment.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.