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What medicine helps cough?

Should You Give Kids Medicine for Coughs and Colds?

Avoid using imported medicines, especially for children. Medications from other countries might not have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness. These products may be addictive or contain other dangerous ingredients.

Although most colds in children don’t cause serious complications, they can cause stress and worry in parents and caregivers. It’s understandable that you might want to give your child medicine to treat a cold. But most children will get better on their own, and cough or cold medicine will not change the natural course of a cold or make it go away faster.

In addition, some cough and cold medicines can have serious side effects, such as slowed breathing, which can be life-threatening, especially in infants and young children. For those reasons, it’s important to know when your child needs medication, which treatments are recommended, and when to do without medicine.

These days, cold and cough symptoms can be especially worrisome, because they could be symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, or other potentially serious illness. If you are concerned about COVID-19, talk to your child’s health care provider.

Ways to Treat Colds in Infants and Children

Coughs are a normal symptom of a cold and help the body clear the mucus out of the airway and protect the lungs. Non-drug treatments for coughs include drinking plenty of fluids, especially warm drinks to soothe the throat.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers these tips for relieving cough and cold symptoms in infants and children:

A cool mist humidifier makes breathing easier by decreasing congestion in nasal passages. Do not use warm mist humidifiers because they can cause nasal passages to swell and make breathing more difficult.

Saline nose drops or sprays keep nasal passages moist and help avoid stuffiness.

Nasal suctioning with a bulb syringe or a similar product, with or without saline nose drops, works very well for children younger than a year old. You can use them on older children, too, but they often resist bulb syringes.

Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce fever, aches, and pain. Carefully read and follow the product’s instructions on the Drug Facts label or talk to your pharmacist or health care provider about dosage.

Encourage children to drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated.

Giving Children Cough and Cold Medicines

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are available to treat cough and cold symptoms. The FDA doesn’t recommend OTC medicines for cough and cold symptoms in children younger than 2 because they could cause serious and potentially life-threatening side effects. Manufacturers voluntarily label these cough and cold products to state: “Do not use in children under 4 years of age.”

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Numerous OTC cough and cold products contain many ingredients that can lead to accidental overdosing. Learn about what drugs (active ingredients) are in a product by reading the Drug Facts label.

Nonprescription cough and cold products can be harmful to children if:

  • They get more than the recommended dose or take the medicine too often.
  • They take more than one product containing the same drug. For example, taking both a pain reliever containing acetaminophen and cough and cold medicine containing acetaminophen.

How can you be sure to give the correct dose? The FDA encourages drug manufacturers to provide a dosing instrument, such as a syringe or a cup, marked with the correct measurements. Use them—and not household spoons or tools from other medications—to measure medication.

Don’t give children medicines that are packaged and made for adults because adult medicines may overdose a child.

There Are No FDA-Approved Homeopathic Products

At your pharmacy and online, you may see other cough and cold medicine being sold for children advertised as homeopathic. It’s important to note that these homeopathic products are drugs because they are intended to treat or mitigate colds, even though some of these products might look similar to dietary supplements.

Homeopathic products are generally labeled as containing very small amounts of highly diluted substances, including ingredients from plants, animal or human sources, bacteria, minerals, and chemicals. The FDA has found that some of these products contain active drug ingredients in levels that far exceed the amount stated on the product’s label, and could cause significant harm to children.

There are no FDA-approved homeopathic products, and homeopathic products sold in the U.S. have not met the FDA’s requirements for safety and effectiveness. The FDA is not aware of any proven benefits of these products and urges you not to give homeopathic cough and cold medicine to children younger than 4.

In certain instances, children younger than 4 who took these products have experienced serious side effects, some of which required hospitalization, including:

  • Seizure, allergic reaction, and difficulty breathing.
  • Low blood potassium and low blood sugar, which may result in headache, crankiness, drowsiness, and weakness.

These serious side effects occurred soon after children took a homeopathic cough and cold product; however, it is not always possible to know whether a reported side effect was caused by a medicine.

When to Call a Doctor

Not every sniffle or cough merits a trip to the doctor’s office. When in doubt, call your health care provider.

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Some symptoms can signal that your child may have something more serious than a cold. For all children, call a doctor if you see any of these symptoms:

  • A fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in an infant 2 months or younger.
  • A fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in children at any age.
  • Blue lips.
  • Labored breathing, including nostrils widening with each breath; wheezing; fast breathing; the ribs showing with each breath; or shortness of breath.
  • Severe headache.
  • Not eating or drinking, with signs of dehydration (such as decreased urination).
  • Excessive crankiness or sleepiness.
  • Persistent ear pain.
  • If the child is getting worse.

Medications for Cough

A rapid expulsion of air from the lungs typically in order to clear the lung airways of fluids, mucus, or material.

Drugs used to treat Cough

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

Generic name: benzonatate systemic

Brand names: Tessalon Perles, Tessalon

Generic name: guaifenesin systemic

Generic name: diphenhydramine systemic

Generic name: guaifenesin systemic

Brand names: Mucinex, Altarussin, Amibid LA, Balminil Expectorant, Benylin E, Bidex-400, Drituss G, Fenesin IR, Guaifenex G, Guaifenex LA, Guiatuss, Hytuss, Mucinex for Kids, Mucinex Maximum Strength, Robafen, Scot-Tussin Expectorant, Tussin Expectorant, Xpect …show all

Generic name: codeine / guaifenesin systemic

Generic name: benzonatate systemic

Generic name: dextromethorphan / promethazine systemic

Generic name: dextromethorphan / guaifenesin systemic

Generic name: chlorpheniramine / hydrocodone systemic

Generic name: dextromethorphan systemic

Brand names: Delsym, Delsym 12 Hour Cough Relief, Robitussin CoughGels Long-Acting, Vicks Dayquil Cough, Babee Cof, Buckleys Mixture, Creomulsion, DexAlone, ElixSure Cough, Hold, Robafen Cough Liquidgels, Scot-Tussin Diabetes, Silphen DM, Sucrets Cough, Triaminic Long Acting Cough, Vicks Formula 44 …show all

Generic name: dextromethorphan / guaifenesin systemic

Generic name: codeine / promethazine systemic

Generic name: homatropine / hydrocodone systemic

Generic name: codeine / guaifenesin systemic

Brand names: Cheratussin AC, Guaiatussin AC, Virtussin A/C, Guaifenesin AC, Allfen CD, Cheracol with Codeine, Codar GF, Duraganidin NR, M-Clear WC, Mar-cof CG, Mytussin AC, Robafen AC …show all

Generic name: dextromethorphan systemic

Generic name: benzonatate systemic

Generic name: chlorpheniramine / hydrocodone systemic

Brand names: Tussionex Pennkinetic, TussiCaps

Generic name: diphenhydramine systemic

Brand names: Benadryl, Allermax, Banophen, Benadryl Allergy, Complete Allergy Relief, Dicopanol, Diphedryl, Diphen, Dytuss, Scot-Tussin Allergy, Siladryl Allergy, Twilite, Valu-Dryl …show all

Generic name: gabapentin systemic

Off-label: Yes

Generic name: homatropine / hydrocodone systemic

Generic name: dextromethorphan / guaifenesin systemic

Brand names: Robitussin Cough + Chest Congestion DM, Mucinex DM, Tussin DM, Coricidin HBP Chest Congestion & Cough, Mucinex DM Maximum Strength, Aquatab DM, Bidex-A, Biocotron, Broncotron, Delsym Cough+ Chest Congestion DM, Fenesin DM IR, G-Zyncof, Guaifenex DM, HT Tuss DM, Humibid CS, Mucinex Children’s Cough, Phlemex, Safetussin DM, Siltussin DM, Vicks DayQuil Mucus Control DM, Zyncof …show all

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Generic name: hydromorphone systemic

Generic name: homatropine / hydrocodone systemic

Brand names: Hycodan, Hydromet, Tussigon

Generic name: acetaminophen / hydrocodone systemic

Brand name: Xodol

Generic name: dextromethorphan systemic

Frequently asked questions

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Topics under Cough

  • Cough and Nasal Congestion (159 drugs)

Alternative treatments for Cough

The following products are considered to be alternative treatments or natural remedies for Cough. Their efficacy may not have been scientifically tested to the same degree as the drugs listed in the table above. However there may be historical, cultural or anecdotal evidence linking their use to the treatment of Cough.

Learn more about Cough

  • Acute Bronchitis in Adults
  • Allergies, Cough/Cold Medications and Alcohol Interactions

Care guides guides (external)


RatingFor ratings, users were asked how effective they found the medicine while considering positive/adverse effects and ease of use (1 = not effective, 10 = most effective).
ActivityActivity is based on recent site visitor activity relative to other medications in the list.
RxPrescription only.
Rx/OTCPrescription or Over-the-counter.
Off-labelThis medication may not be approved by the FDA for the treatment of this condition.
EUAAn Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) allows the FDA to authorize unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products to be used in a declared public health emergency when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.
Expanded AccessExpanded Access is a potential pathway for a patient with a serious or immediately life-threatening disease or condition to gain access to an investigational medical product (drug, biologic, or medical device) for treatment outside of clinical trials when no comparable or satisfactory alternative therapy options are available.
Pregnancy Category
AAdequate and well-controlled studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy (and there is no evidence of risk in later trimesters).
BAnimal reproduction studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women.
CAnimal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use in pregnant women despite potential risks.
DThere is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience or studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use in pregnant women despite potential risks.
XStudies in animals or humans have demonstrated fetal abnormalities and/or there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience, and the risks involved in use in pregnant women clearly outweigh potential benefits.
NFDA has not classified the drug.
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Controlled Substances Act (CSA) Schedule
MThe drug has multiple schedules. The schedule may depend on the exact dosage form or strength of the medication.
UCSA Schedule is unknown.
NIs not subject to the Controlled Substances Act.
1Has a high potential for abuse. Has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. There is a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
2Has a high potential for abuse. Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. Abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
3Has a potential for abuse less than those in schedules 1 and 2. Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.
4Has a low potential for abuse relative to those in schedule 3. It has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Abuse may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to those in schedule 3.
5Has a low potential for abuse relative to those in schedule 4. Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Abuse may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to those in schedule 4.
XInteracts with Alcohol.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Doctors discourage use of cough medicine

Despite the billions of dollars spent every year in this country on over-the-counter cough syrups, most such medicines do little if anything to relieve coughs, the nation’s chest physicians say.

Over-the-counter cough syrups generally contain drugs in too low a dose to be effective, or contain combinations of drugs that have never been proven to treat coughs, said Dr. Richard Irwin, chairman of a cough guidelines committee for the American College of Chest Physicians.

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Drugstore shelves are crowded with cough syrups promising speedy, often non-drowsy relief without a prescription.

But “the best studies that we have to date would suggest there’s not a lot of justification for using these medications because they haven’t been shown to work,” said Irwin, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass.

The group’s new cough treatment guidelines discourage use of over-the-counter cough medicines. Irwin said that not only are such medicines ineffective at treating coughs due to colds — the most common cause of coughs — they can also can lead patients to delay seeking treatment for more serious coughs, including whooping cough.

The guidelines strongly recommend that adults receive a new adult vaccine for whooping cough, approved last year.

Guidelines disputed

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group for makers of over-the-counter medications, disputed the guidelines and said over-the-counter cough medicines provide relief to millions of people each year.

The guidelines were published in the January issue of Chest, the American College of Chest Physicians’ journal, released Monday. The recommendations have been endorsed by the college, the American Thoracic Society and the Canadian Thoracic Society.

Many popular over-the-counter cough medicines proudly advertise that they don’t cause drowsiness, but Irwin said that is because they do not contain older antihistamine drugs that do help relieve coughs that are due to colds.

These antihistamines, including diphenhydramine — an active ingredient in Benadryl — are also available over the counter but are not marketed as cough medicines, he said.

Some over-the-counter cough syrups contain two drugs that have been shown to help relieve coughs caused by colds — codeine and dextromethorphan — but generally the doses are too small to be effective, Irwin said.

Dextromethorphan is in Robitussin, a top-selling over-the-counter cough syrup. It is among Robitussin ingredients that the Food and Drug Administration has found to be safe and effective, said Francis Sullivan, a spokesman for Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, which makes Robitussin.

Sullivan said Robitussin “wouldn’t be a top brand if people didn’t feel it was efficacious.”

Coughs can have numerous underlying causes, including asthma, allergies, severe heartburn, postnasal drip and bronchitis.

Dr. Edward Schulman, an American Thoracic Society representative on the guidelines panel, said patients should see their doctors for coughs that linger longer than three weeks or are accompanied by shortness of breath, which could indicate pneumonia or other serious conditions.

Coughs due to colds usually last less than three weeks. Drinking lots of fluids can help relieve these coughs, and so can chicken soup, Schulman said.

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