A cough is the way the lung protects itself from irritated or obstructed airways.


A dry cough does not produce any phlegm and is tickly and tight. It is often but not alwayscaused by a virus.


A productive cough produces sputum the colour of which is very important (an infection would show up green, yellow or rusty thick mucous). Blood in the sputum may be dangerous.


Croup is a harsh bark in infants – there is often difficulty in breathing and a noise in the throat on breathing in (stridor).


Whooping cough starts with catarrh and develops into fits of coughing so severe the child has to “whoop” to breathe in.


Smoking causes coughing as it irritates the lungs.




Care must be taken with age limits on cough bottles. You should distinguish whether the cough is dry or productive. If it is productive, then does the sputum have any colour? Other associated symptoms may include a cold, sore throat or catarrh. There may be a temperature and general aches and pains.


A cough medicine should work within 5 days. Generally speaking a cough should not last longer than two weeks.
- Certain cough syrups are unsuitable for diabetics due to their sugar content.
- Asthmatics should see the pharmacist about any cough.
- Some prescription medicines can cause a cough, so call in to your local pharmacist if you are taking medication on prescription.
- If you are suffering from heart disease or if you are pregnant ask to speak to the pharmacist. Some blood pressure medications can cause a persistent dry cough. Tell the pharmacist if you are taking blood pressure medication.


Cough medicines can be divided into 3 main categories:


  • Cough suppressants keep the cough reflex at bay and so prevent coughing. This is ideal for a dry cough but may cause a build up of mucus in the case of a productive cough. An example of a cough suppressant medicine is Benylin for Dry Coughs
  • Mucolytics break up the mucus in the lungs and so make it easier to cough up. A good mucolytic cough bottle is Benylin Clear Action.
  • Expectorants encourage the lungs to produce a watery type of mucus. This can worsen a cough when treatment is started but when continued, can help to clear the airways quicker by encouraging the elimination of mucus. An example of an expectorant cough bottle is Benylin For Chesty Coughs.


Many cough medicines contain additional ingredients to help with other symptoms e.g. a decongestant to unblock the nose as well as helping with the cough. Ask your pharmacist for more advice if you think you need a combination product.


People getting coughs and colds regularly may benefit from a good course of vitamins especially if their cough or chest infection requires an antibiotic. Smokers with a cough may be interested in kicking the habit. NICORETTE chewing gum, nicotine patch or inhalator may help relieve the nicotine craving. Your local pharmacist or healthcare advisor will be able to help you in your choice of nicotine replacement preparation.


Coughs can often be due to what is called postnasal drip. This means that fluid from the sinuses drips back into the throat at night and causes an irritating cough, which can cause loss of sleep. A good decongestant can help here. Sore throats can often result from a persistent dry cough – a good lozenge is recommended.


Practical Points:


  • Diabetic patients usually require sugar free cough bottles but the choice of bottle is best left to the pharmacist.
  • Steam inhalers, such as vaporisers or humidifiers can be very useful in easing coughs and are a non-drug method. The warm moist air is comforting, and works to loosen the chest by liquefying mucous in the airways. A recent study has shown that this continual cool steam is not only safer, but is much better for a child than the hot steam which is used from kettles in some houses. KARVOL is a great help as well, either in the boat of the humidifier or on the blankets away from the child’s head.
  • With a chesty cough, a high fluid intake is advisable as it hydrates the lungs and liquefies troublesome mucous. Hot drinks can also be quite soothing.