Antitussives are a class of drugs used to suppress coughing by blocking the cough reflex. Generally, doctors believe that coughs do not need to be suppressed unless they are interfering with sleep or daily life. Coughs that are “productive” mean that they expel mucous from the lungs and that is usually desirable. Antitussives may be used along with an expectorant, which forces the cough reflex, if the lungs have mucous and the patient is not able to cough it out.
Most non-opiate antitussives are available over the counter. Among those commonly used is destromethorphan. A common brand name is Tessalon (generic BENZONATATE). Many over the counter cough medications also contain pain relievers, antihistamines, decongestants or expectorants when used for multi-symptom colds and flu, such as Theraflu Cold and Cough Powder.
A doctor may prescribe a stronger antitussive when over the counter medications fail to work. This may include an opiate such as cheratussin, morphine or diamorphine which can be addictive.
Natural antitussives include camphor and menthol. These may be applied to the skin or used in a vaporizer to inhale. They are also available in tablets to release slowly in the mouth (lozenges).
Dextromethorphan may interfere with other medications, especially antidepressants. Those with COPD or those coughing up blood should see a doctor. Children under the age of six should not take these products without a doctor’s supervision. The timed-release versions of these products are generally not recommended for children under the age of twelve. Rare side effects may include nausea, dizziness, rash, itching, swelling or trouble breathing. You should read the packages and leaflets of all antitussives to determine if other added ingredients, such as decongestants, would make them undesirable to your particular health. Antitussives are available in liquid, capsules, powders and topical.