Are cough syrups a waste of your money?

That annoying tickling sensation in our throats and chesty cough we experience during the winter flu season can hang around for days, if not weeks. And cough syrups are often our go-to medication.

But do these medicines actually work?

In its latest Reactions video, the American Chemical Society (ACS) explains the chemistry behind cough medicine.

After trawling through scientific research to find out whether over-the-counter syrups actually work, researchers concluded there is little evidence to show they are effective at treating coughs.

But the active ingredients in cough medicines can help relieve symptoms: antitussives like DXM are meant to block the cough reflex, expectorants like guaifenesin are designed to thin the mucus in your lungs, decongestants like ephedrine narrow the blood vessels in the lungs and nose, and antihistamines like loratadine reduce the swelling around the nose and throat.

However, taking large doses of cough medicine can be dangerous, and even fatal.

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“Large doses of DXM can cause dizziness, uncontrollable eye movement, convulsions and even death,” researchers said. “It’s especially dangerous for young children – thousands of kids under 12 are sent to the emergency room ever year because of accidental overdoses on cough medicines.”

They add that old-fashioned cough hacks are equally effective. For example, drinking plenty of fluid can help thin the mucus and reduce your cough reflex, while a steamy shower or a humidifier can help reduce congestion. Also, sucking on sweets can relieve your irritated throat.


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