Coughs: what works

Patsy Westcott / 21 March 2017

The key is to pinpoint the most troublesome symptom and tackle that, says pharmacist.



An acute cough – one lasting less than three weeks – is the most common reason for new visits to the GP. They are usually linked to colds and other viruses affecting our upper airways and often clear up on their own within a couple of weeks, according to the British Thoracic Association.

But as pharmacist Steve Riley points out ‘A cough can be uncomfortable and irritating and get in the way of daily life, as well as disturbing sleep.’ And, while over-the-counter cough medicines won’t  ‘cure’ a cough, they may help relieve symptoms allowing you to get through a film, play, work, meet up with a friend or get to sleep without hacking away.

‘The key is to pinpoint the most troublesome symptom and choose the best product to tackle that,’ says Riley. ‘A pharmacist can help you choose something that’s safe with any other medications or supplements you may be taking.’

Cough cures: what works

Is it an acid reflux cough?

There are three main options: 

For dry coughs: Cough suppressants

Common brands: Covonia Night Time Formula, Robitussin Dry Cough Medicine, Actifed Multi-Action Dry Cough

Use to: ease a tickly, unproductive irritating cough and help quell the urge to cough. Can produce useful relief, especially at night when sleep is disturbed.

Active ingredients: may include codeine, pholcodine, dextromethorphan and antihistamines, which act at the cough centre in the brain to suppress the cough reflex.

For chesty coughs: Expectorants

Common brands: Boots Pharmaceuticals Mucus Cough Relief, Benilyn Chesty Coughs, Robitussin Chesty Cough Medicine

Use to: help loosen and thin sticky mucus enabling you to cough up irritating phlegm and ease congestion.

Active ingredients: may include guaifenesin, ammonium chloride, squill, sodium citrate and ipecacuanha.

For a cough with a sore throat: Demulcent and herbal products

Common brands: Veno’s Honey and Lemon Syrup, Care Simple Linctus, BronchoStop cough syrup

Use to: coat the throat, protecting against irritants so reducing the stimulus to cough.

Active ingredients: may include glycerine, honey, pectin, lemon, herbs.

See the GP if: symptoms are still troublesome after three weeks.

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