Cough Medicine Doesn’t Work, May Harm Kids

The above headline comes from Fox News and is just one of the many stories appearing in the press based on new guidelines published by the American College of Chest Physicians in the January 2006 issue of their journal Chest. The guidelines were also endorsed by the American Thoracic Society and the Canadian Thoracic Society. In a January 9, 2006 USA Today story on the guidelines, it was reported that nearly 30 million Americans visit doctors for coughs each year.

Richard D. Irwin, MD, guidelines committee chair and professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, stated, “There is no clinical evidence that over-the-counter cough expectorants or suppressants actually relieve cough.” Dr. Irwin also noted, “Over the Counter cough medicines have been shown to have a strong placebo effect, and coughs due to colds eventually go away on their own.”

The recommendations concerning children were even stronger. “Cough and cold medicines are not useful in children and can actually be harmful.” stated Irwin. He continued, “In most cases, a cough that is unrelated to chronic lung conditions, environmental influences, or other specific factors, will resolve on its own.”

The Fox News article reported that there have been very few studies done on over-the-counter cough medicines. They also pointed out that most of the studies were conducted decades ago and involved narcotic products containing codeine.

William Brendle Glomb, MD, a pediatric lung specialist who helped write the guidelines said, “There are big holes in the scientific literature, and this is one of them. These products just haven’t been studied.”