More About OTC Cough Medicine

Coughing is the reason why cough medicine are very common nowadays. However, it can also be one of the most annoying. Coughing is our body’s way of reacting to irritation in the airway and removal of foreign materials that causes infection from the lungs and upper airway passage. So when you think of it; coughing, is our body’s natural defensive responsive to keep our lungs and the rest of our respiratory system from further infections caused by bacteria and viruses. However, frequent and coughing can be very irritating, as it can hurt the throat, and ribs, not to mention it can be really embarrassing. Cough that are related to infections in the respiratory tract is the most common reasons for visiting doctors.

Coughs have its typical traits that you can easily recognize. However, it is important to understand that; cough is simply a symptom of the illness cause by the virus, not entirely the disease. And most often than not, the importance of coughing is determined only when it is evaluated.

OTC Cough Medicine

OTC (over-the-counter) cough medicine i sa cough medication you can get without your doctor’s prescription. There are basically two types of OTC you can find in drug stores today: the antitussives (suppressants) and the expectorants.

There are 2 types of antitussives, the Opiate antitussives and the Non-opiate antitussives. Here’s the difference of the two:

Opiate Antitussives

This type of cough medicine is considered as a narcotic medicine, as it works centrally to suppress the reflex muscles that cause coughs. Its exact mechanism is still yet to be known, and opiate antitussives need physician’s or nurse’s evaluation, and require prescription.

The hydrocodone, which is a semi-synthetic opiate, is considered as the strongest opiate antitussive there is. Like any other narcotics available in the market, this drug can cause drowsiness and even decrease in the respiratory drive. Not to mention it can lead into addiction. This drug is usually combined along with other medications, like acetaminophen and homatropine, and is highly discouraged for overuse.

The less addictive option is codeine, a naturally occurring opiate alkaloid, where almost 10% of medication is changed into morphine.

Non-opiate Antitussives

A good example of non-opiate Antitussive is the Dextromethorphan. This drug has been available for decades, and it doesn’t have adverse side effects of respiratory suppression and sedation. Its efficacy however, has been a subject of numerous debates, but it’s generally an effective medicine for children.

Benzonatate, is another effective medicine, but it can only be acquired with prescription. Its chemical structure is quite the same with local anesthetics, and it can numb the cough reflex, discouraging frequent coughing.


Expectorants work by thinning those mucous that are blocking the air passage that leads to the lungs, making them easier to cough out. Again, coughing is our body’s natural response on protecting the lungs from various infections and clear the air passage from mucous build up, thus it is very important to cough out the mucous. Expectorants also make coughing easier and less painful from chest congestion, making way for better breathing.

Guaifenesin is a popular expectorant commonly used to lubricate the airways and increase the amount of water from bronchial secretions to lessen the quality of mucous, making them easier to cough out.