Combination cough and cold medicines

Many 'cough and cold' medicines combine a cough suppressant and/or an expectorant with other active ingredients including:

  • antihistamines (e.g. chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, triprolidine, brompheniramine, dexchlorpheniramine, doxylamine, pheniramine, promethazine)

  • decongestants (e.g. pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, oxymetazoline,  xylometazoline).

Medicines containing these active ingredients should not be used in children younger than 6 years of age. Ask a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for advice before giving cough and cold medicines to children aged 6 to 11 years.

This is because few clinical trials have proven the effectiveness of combination cough and cold and cold and flu medicines, particularly in children, but they are known to cause serious side effects (e.g. seizures or fits).

Always ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on the most appropriate medicine for you or your child, and always read the label.

Many combination cough and cold products contain paracetamol

Don’t use more than one medicine containing paracetamol. This is to avoid the chance of ‘doubling up’, or overdosing with paracetamol, if you take two medicines that contain paracetamol. Some people may not be able to take paracetamol. Read more about paracetamol.

If you do decide to use a combination cough and cold medicine:

  • do not give it to children younger than 6 years of age
  • ask a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for advice before giving cough and cold medicines to children aged 6 to 11 years
  • follow the instructions on the medicine label exactly
  • always use the correct medicine for your child’s age. Read more about measuring and administering a child’s dose of medicine.

Know your active ingredient — find out how to correctly identify all the ingredients in your medicines and why it's important to know how.

Phone for medicines information

Call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to get information about your prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and mineral supplements) from a pharmacist. Your call will be answered by healthdirect Australia.

Note about medicine names

Most medicines have two names: the active ingredient and the brand name. The active ingredient is the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. The brand name is the name given to the medicine by its manufacturer. There may be several brands that contain the same active ingredient. This website uses active ingredient names, with brand names in brackets. We also discuss medicines in groups or ‘classes’, when their effects or actions are very similar.

To find out more about active ingredients and brand names see our Brand choices information.

Always ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on the most appropriate medicine for you or your child, and always read the label.

References