Generally, a simple cough does not need serious treatment because it can go away on its own. But if your cough is hindering you from performing your daily activities or is keeping you awake, there are solutions you can try to get rid of cough fast. One of these is the use of over-the-counter cough medicines.

2 Basic Types of Cough Medicines


A common cold and other conditions can cause the buildup of mucus in your airway, which then causes congestion in your chest and a chesty cough. Expectorants will help loosen the congestion so you can expel the mucus and clear out your lungs.


Each day, you are exposed to different pollutants in the air like smoke, exhaust fumes, and dust. Your immune system will do its job to clear your airways of any irritants. As a result, you can develop a dry cough. Suppressants, otherwise known as antitussives, are used to control this type of cough temporarily.

Cough medicines can be combined with antihistamines, pain relievers or decongestants to treat a cold. Antihistamines will help minimize sneezing and runny nose. Pain medications don’t just relieve aches but also help lower a fever. And decongestants help reduce nasal stuffiness or congestion.

Common Side Effects

When taking OTC cough medicines, you may feel a bit sleepy, dizzy or irritable. Some people may experience other known side effects include nausea, headache, blurred vision, vomiting, or difficulty sleeping.

If any of these side effects worsen or persist, make sure to consult a doctor immediately. A medical consultation is also advised if you feel any serious side effects like mood/mental changes, trouble urinating, tremors, irregular/fast heartbeat or seizures.

While an allergy to cough medicines is rare, there is still a possibility that you could be allergic to any of its ingredients. This is manifested by severe dizziness, difficulty breathing, rash, and itching or swelling in your face, throat, and tongue. Once you observe these effects, visit a doctor immediately.

Who Should Not Take OTC Cough Medicines?

Not everyone can benefit from taking cough medications. If you are suffering from medical conditions like liver disease or high blood pressure, you must speak to your physician first before taking OTC cough medicines. Otherwise, this remedy can do more harm than good. Antihistamines, decongestants and other drugs that have high sodium content can increase your blood pressure.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be careful about taking OTC cough medicines. A medical consult is highly recommended before buying or taking any of these medicines.

Signs of Overdose

An overdose refers to ingesting more than the required dosage of the cold medicine. Usually, this can be life-threatening, so you have to monitor your intake. As much as possible, keep a record of when and how much you have taken.

Some of the signs indicating an overdose include:

  • Hallucinations, restlessness or anxiety
  • Severe headache
  • Dilated pupils or blurred vision
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unusual behavior or slurred speech

Whenever you feel any of these signs, consult your physician immediately.


Keep your medicines out of sight and reach of young children. Also, store them in a dry, cool place. Storing them in hot and humid places, such as in bathroom cabinets, will make them less effective even before their expiration date.

How to Use Cough Medicines Safely

●      Read the directions

Cough medicines include directions on the label, so make sure to read those before taking them. This will inform you of the right amount and frequency for taking the medicine. This is the best way to avoid an overdose.

●      Don’t take pain relievers or prescribed medicine with cough and cold drugs

Cold medicines usually contain pain relievers. As such, you need not take a pain reliever and a cold separate medicine simultaneously as you would be taking more than what is required.

The same is true with prescribed medications. Don’t take these simultaneously with cough medicines without consulting your doctor. This can increase the risk of side effects or have negative effects with one another.

●      Avoid using OTC cough medicines with alcohol

When you are taking cough and cold medicines, don’t drink alcohol because this can worsen dizziness and drowsiness.

●      Know when to see a doctor

If your cough lasts for more than a week, despite taking cough medicines, consult a doctor immediately. This can be a sign of a serious health condition, especially if it is accompanied by a persistent headache, a rash or a fever.

If you are suffering from a persistent cough because of chronic bronchitis, asthma, smoking or emphysema, consult your doctor before taking cough medicines.

If your cough is becoming a nuisance, it is time to deal with it using the best medicine for cough and cold. But before taking any OTC cough medicines, you need to be aware of everything there is to know, including how to use them safely. Most importantly, speak with your doctor if you are suffering from any medical problem, pregnant or breastfeeding to make sure that the medications are effective and safe for you.