Types of cough medicines
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 out more about the different types of cough medicines, how they work and who shouldn’t use them in the table below.
|Type of medicine||About the medicine||Active ingredient(s) in medicine
Demulcents are cough syrups (or cough linctus) that may suppress coughing by forming a protective layer over the throat (pharynx). These can be given to children.
|Sugar (sucrose) and glycerol|
Mucolytics are cough medicines that make it easier to cough up mucus. They may help your symptoms if you have long-term (chronic) bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Medicines containing bromhexine should not be given to children younger than 6 years of age. Ask a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for advice before giving to children aged 6 to 11 years.
|Bromhexine or acetylcysteine|
Cough expectorants loosen mucus in the respiratory tract, and can be used for coughs that produce mucus (productive coughs). There is little or no information from good quality trials that they are effective for treating coughs in children.
Cough expectorants should not be given to children younger than 6 years of age. Ask a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for advice before giving to children aged 6 to 11 years.
|Guaifenesin, ammonium chloride, ammonia, senega, sodium citrate or ipecacuanha|
Cough suppressants suppress the body's urge to cough. There is little or no information from good quality trials that cough suppressants are effective for treating coughs in children, but they can cause side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, vomiting or constipation.
Cough suppressants containing opioids:
|Codeine, dextromethorphan, dihydrocodeine, pholcodine, or pentoxyverine|
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 (e.g. amoxycillin), with brand names in brackets and with a capital letter (e.g. Amoxil). 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, read our brand choices information.
- 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 13 December 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, January 2013.
- 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. www.nps.org.au/publications/health-professional/nps-news/2009/nps-news-63 (accessed 13 December 2012).