Cough Syrups: What parents should know?

Cough and cold with or without fever is the top reason for children visiting their doctors or child specialists. Although most coughs and colds in children aren’t serious, they can be troublesome for the child. This leads to a lot of anxiety in parents and caregivers. Cough syrups are hence widely prescribed for children by doctors worldwide.

What is the cause of the cough?
Most parents give cough syrup to children without knowing what is causing the cough. Cough is a symptom of an underlying disease. Common causes of short lasting cough are viral infections, tonsillitis, croup, sinusitis and asthma. Prolonged cough could be due to illnesses like tuberculosis, asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis etc. Hence, as the causes of cough could be quite different, it is important to know the diagnosis before treating cough.

What are the medicines in cough syrups?
Cough syrups are a combination of few medicines like cough suppressants (dextromethorphan, codeine etc), anti-allergy (chlorpheniramine etc) or antihistamines, bronchodilators (salbutamol, levosalbutamol) and expectorants to thin mucus (ambroxol, guaifenesin). The content of every cough syrup is different.

Are cough syrups effective in reducing cough in children?
Cough is associated with a body’s protective mechanism to clear the mucus and keep lungs healthy. Hence, coughs associated with viral infections need not be suppressed. In addition, it has been seen that most cough medicines/syrups do not really reduce the intensity of cough or shorten its duration.

Are cough syrups safe for children?
Cough syrups can have minor side effects like increased sleepiness, ataxia or abnormal walk, increased heart rate and flushing of skin. There have been large published reports from the USA and Canada suggesting that overdosing with cough syrups can lead to serious side effects including death.

Which is the best cough syrup for my child?
Most coughs and colds in children are due to viral infections. Typically, a viral infection will run its course and start improving on its own usually in a week or two. Hence, most children do not require many medicines. Usually paracetamol for reducing fever and drinking plenty of fluids, especially warm drinks to soothe the throat are enough for treatment. Treatments like ginger, honey and tulsi have benefits in improving cough and cold. Warm saline gargles can also be helpful in older children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *