How Effective Are OTC Cough Medicines?

the MPR take:

Non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are frequently recommended as first-line treatment for acute cough in children and adults due to upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), but previous evidence has questioned the efficacy of these agents compared to placebo. A review in the Cochrane Library compared the results of 29 placebo-controlled randomized trials of oral OTC cough preparations for acute cough in 4,835 children and adults. Antitussives, expectorants, mucolytics, antihistamine-decongestant combinations, other drug combinations, antihistamines, and honey were included in the assessments. Overall, the authors found no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of these OTC medications, confirming the findings from two previous reviews; many of the RCTs had poor overall quality and conflicting evidence and the number of trials in each group was small. While most of these preparations appear to be safe, further high-quality RCTs comparing the efficacy of OTC cough medicines to placebo are much needed.

Acute cough due to upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) is a common symptom. Non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are frequently recommended as a first-line treatment, but there is little evidence as to whether these drugs are effective.

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