Cough and cold medicines

Expectorants, antitussives, mucolytics and decongestants

If you have a cold or the flu (Influenza), a cough is often one of the symptoms of your infection.

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.

Find more information about the cough and cold medicines and nasal decongestants affected by this change.


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.

Find out more about cough medicines and the different types of cough medicines.

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).

References

Related information - cough and cold medicines

Audience:
       

(Consumer publication)
20 Jul 2016 The TGA recently released a safety update on bromhexine-containing cough and cold medicines after a small number of cases of allergic and skin reactions. Find out more.
(Medicine)
19 Jul 2016 The flu does not usually require treatment if you are normally healthy. If symptoms are severe or your risk of complication is high, antivirals may be prescribed. Learn more about treatments for flu here
(Condition)
16 Jun 2016 Studies show that antibiotics do not improve the symptoms of a cold or the time it takes to get better. Find out why antibiotics won’t help a cold.
(Condition)
16 Jun 2016 Colds can't be cured with medicines, and you will get better by yourself. Find out more about simple ways to relieve symptoms and feel better faster.
(Topic)
30 Jul 2014 Combination cough and cold medicines are generally not recommended for use while you are breastfeeding. Read more.
(Media release)
09 Jul 2013 NPS MedicineWise is concerned that parents might still be reaching for cough and cold medicines for their children this winter, despite restrictions introduced for these medicines almost 12 months ago.
(Medicine)
03 May 2013 Learn about over-the-counter cough medicines, including who should not take them, their side effects and effectiveness.
(Medicine)
05 Dec 2012 Learn about over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, including who should not take them, and their side effects and effectiveness.
(Medicine)
05 Dec 2012 Learn about over-the-counter combination cough and cold medicines, including who shouldn’t take them, their side effects and effectiveness.
(Medicine)
29 Nov 2012 Learn about over-the-counter cough medicines, types of cough medicines, who shouldn’t take them, their side effects and effectiveness.