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Chicken soup
Cough Drops: How Effective Are They for a Cough?

Along with many travelers this holiday season, I passed through busy airports. There was no shortage of Kleenex packets being bought at the convenient shops, and many travelers had their stash of cough drops. In my opinion, the “cough drop” is one of the least effective treatments for a chronic cough. Yet why are so many millions of these products sold?

Chicken Soup: A Better Alternative

The Pharmacies have done a good job of making us believe that cough drops are a safe and effective remedy for a cough. Of course, for a simple viral illness, like the common cold, a cough drop with Eucalyptus will make you feel better. It will soothe some of the throat irritation which can trigger a cough or throat clearing mechanism. A good bowl of homemade chicken soup is a better alternative. The warm water combined with salt is even more soothing on the throat, and the chicken stock has been shown in some studies to improve white blood cells in fighting off infections. I see too many individuals who are “popping” cough drops like breath mints – they are doing it for survival. They don’t want to create a spectacle in a public place where a loud, hacking cough brings stares of disdain or worse – isolation.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

As an allergist, I see many patients that have battled with a chronic cough for years. It can be debilitating and frustrating. I focus on the underlying cause, which I have mentioned in prior posts that can come from different sources: the nose, the chest or the stomach. In each case, the chronic cough will be alleviated much faster if the primary cause is treated.

Using an Inhaler

To wean a patient off cough drops I have to give them some confidence in an alternative treatment that will do the job. I usually start with an inhaler. Inhalers by definition are bronchodilators, which open up the airways which are spasming – that’s why you are coughing. An inhaler that combines a bronchodilator with a corticosteroid is even better because the mild cortisone component is a” mucus buster”, much more effective at breaking up mucus than over-the-counter decongestants, which essentially dry the mucus but don’t remove it.

Survival tips to get relief from a chronic cough if you can’t get to your doctor immediately:

  1. Drink a caffeinated beverage. Coffee or tea will give you some bronchodilation – but use it in moderation.
  2. Use saline or just a few days of Afrin to make sure your nose is opened and mucus doesn’t build up, causing post-nasal drip.
  3. Old medical trick: if the coughing is non-stop, place a small piece of paper just between your lips – just for a minute or two – this is just enough time to break the cough reflex, and sometimes gives temporary relief.

These are temporary solutions… the real key is to seek medical attention and not be your own doctor. The cost, in the long run, is well worth the relief.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island