Experts Say Cough Syrups Don’t Work

My skull a steadily expanding hydrocephalic sack of mucus, I’ve been swigging a lot of cough syrup lately. I’ve spent a hundred euros on the stuff over the last couple of days, which — roughly translated into America’s currency, the U.S. Cowboyo — is a hell of a lot of money. You empty your wallet on the counter of the local pharmacist, but even in your feverish daze, you know cough medicines don’t really work: it just makes you feel more proactive about your chances of fighting off your body’s alarmingly rapid decomposition into a jell-o monster made of phlegm.

And it turns out you’re right: over-the-counter cough medicines don’t work. You’re mostly just placeboing yourself up. According to the American College of Chest Physicians (sister organization to the FBI, or Federal Breast Inspectors) most of the active ingredients in cough medicines have no real effect, no matter how they’re mixed. Expectorants don’t work at all and suppressants are hit and miss. If you’re really sick and looking for relief, turns out the best thing is to take antihistamines. Wish I’d known this before I’d blown this week’s beer money on a hundred varieties of syrup that all tasted like cream of chalky cherry menthol ejaculate.

Experts: Skip The Cough Medicine [Consumer Affairs]


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  1. Jay Levitt says:

    Crazy, but true. I had bronchitis for six months, and was so desperate that I spent all night on PubMed, found the definitive 50-page paper on chronic cough (, and made an appointment with its co-author, who basically told me that “If you take some medicine, that cough could subside in 4-8 weeks. Otherwise, it might take a month or two.” Most cough meds don’t work most of the time.

    One surprise: about a third of all chronic cough cases are related to acid reflux. Even if the cough was initially caused by a cold, the coughing can force acid up into the esophagus, which gets irritated and makes you cough, which forces acid up… vicious cycle.

    So two weeks of Prilosec can do more for chronic coughing than any cough medicine.

    Another cough secret: Tessalon perles. They’re the only cough medicine NOT based on codeine. They’re little gel capsules that contain a powerful anaesthetic to numb your respiratory system and suppress the cough reflex. (Don’t break them open; you can choke!)

  2. Paul D says:

    the U.S. Cowboyo

    You guys crack me up.

  3. Kos says:

    My Dad’s a pharmacist and I can vouch for Tessalon. Another good and cheap cough secret… Buckley’s Cough Mixture. Warning! This stuff tastes nasty. Like concentrated liquid hales and strong seaweed. Nasty, but it works to soothe the throat and allows you to breathe clearly. The slogan sounds something liek that (taste bad but gets the job done). They make one with a cough suppresant and one with just the mixture. It may not work to shorten whatever is ailing you (though it may help break the cycle that Jay describes above), but at least it allows you the breathe and get through the work day. Try it and hate me for the first 2 minutes and then thank me afterwards.


  4. matto says:

    A few years ago, when I lived in Tokyo, pharmacies sold a cough syrup called “BRON” over-the-counter, which was codiene based. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it certainly did work.

    It would probably be good as a cough supressant, too.

  5. Bubba Barney says:

    Dayquil and Nyquil always worked wonders for me when the recipe still had crack [pseudoephedrine] in it.

    Since they replaced it with something else, it doesn’t work anymore. So I just add meth to them now. Kidding.

  6. Smoking Pope says:

    Had a doctor buddy who got his hands on some Demerol-based cough suppressant (pharmaceutical reps ROCK!). That suppressed coughs in much the same way that decapitation suppresses headaches. Plus it was medicine you looked forward to taking.

  7. OkiMike says:

    Matto, I live in Japan now and I can say that BRON also works wonders as transmission fluid!

    My car has never felt better!

  8. AcidReign says:

    …..Don’t know if they really did anything, but I always loved the taste of Robitussin and Nyquil. I second Bubba’s notion. Nyquil does absolutely nothing, now. To fix a cold these days, I mix up brandy, honey and a little Grand Marnier, chug, and get under the down comforter and sweat. It’s an old recipe.