Cough and cold medicines
Expectorants, antitussives, mucolytics and decongestants
Most people who are generally healthy won’t need to see their doctor if they have a cough. Your immune system will fight your infection and your cough and other symptoms will usually clear up on their own within 10 days, but can last up to 3 weeks.
Do cough and cold medicines work?
There are many different types of cough medicines as well as combination ‘cough and cold’, ‘cold and flu’ medicines that can be bought over the counter. While these medicines may relieve the symptoms of a cough or cold, there are few good quality clinical trials proving their effectiveness, particularly in children.
Changes to cough and cold medicines for children
Advice about cough and cold medicines for children has changed from 15 August 2012.
- Cough and cold medicines should not be given to children younger than 6 years old.
- Ask a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for advice before giving cough and cold medicines to children aged 6 to 11 years.
Know your active ingredients
Many combination cough and cold medicines also contain paracetamol, so it is important to check the active ingredients on the label of all your medicines to avoid ‘doubling up’ and taking other medicines that also contain paracetamol.
Ask for advice
Before using any medicine, check with a doctor or pharmacist about the safest one for you or your child. Always read the information on the label and the consumer medicine information (CMI) for your medicine (if available).
- Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in ambulatory settings. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;(1):CD001831.pub3. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001831.pub4/abstract (accessed 21 March 2012).
- Chang CC, Cheng AC, Chang AB. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications to reduce cough as an adjunct to antibiotics for acute pneumonia in children and adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007;(4):CD006088.pub3. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006088.pub3/abstract (accessed 21 March 2012).
- Rossi S, ed. Australian Medicines Handbook online. Adelaide: AMH, July 2012.
- Sung S. Cough and cold remedies for children. Aust Prescr 2009;32:122. www.australianprescriber.com/magazine/32/5/122/4 (accessed 22 February 2012).
- National Prescribing Service. NPS News 63: Managing expectations for antibiotics in respiratory tract infections. Sydney: NPS, 2009. (accessed 3 April 2012).
- Ask Your Pharmacist. Changes to the use of Cough and Cold medicines in children. September 2012. (Accessed 10 October 2012)