North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL


November 16, 2011

Health Watch: Coughing is only symptom, not disease


Nonproductive cough

Non-productive coughs include:

• Viral illnesses – After a common cold, a dry hacking cough may last for several weeks, with the symptoms being worse at night.

• Bronchospasm – This type of cough is worse at night, and may indicate spasms in the bronchial tubes caused by irritation.

• Allergies – Frequent sneezing related to allergies is also accompanied with this type of cough.

• Medications – Medications such as Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (used to treat elevated blood pressure) often cause a non-productive cough.

• Exposure to dust, fumes, and chemicals in a work environment can produce this cough.

• Asthma – A chronic dry cough may be a sign of mild asthma

• Airway blockage – Blocking the airway can also product a non-productive cough.

What to do?

So you ask: “Do cough medicines work?” Based on the billions of dollars spent each year on them one would think so, but the experts are not so sure.

In a 2006 study, the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) reviewed a number of cough medication studies used over the last decade. They studied cough medications such as dextromethorphan (DM), as well as expectorants such as guaifenesin. There was no evidence that these medications helped people with run-of-the-mill coughs caused by viruses.

It is important to understand these studies have not proven that the cough medications are ineffective. Rather, they have shown that there is not good evidence they are effective.  

Many of these medications have a long history behind them. If they were being submitted to the FDA for approval today, there most likely would not be enough data to approve them.  The good news about cough medicines is that while they may not be the most helpful, they are unlikely to hurt you. If you take the cough medicine as directed, there is little chance of having any problems with them.

To effectively treat a cough it is important to get to the root of the problem, remembering that a cough is only a symptom and not a disease.

If the cough persists or has major effects on your life activities, a physician should be consulted to determine the cause of the cough and provide appropriate treatment. The common cough resulting from a common cold or upper respiratory infection is often self-limiting with little or no drug treatment.

Steve Mullenix (R.Ph) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with his wife, Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.). They can be reached at 631-1201.

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