Cough

Updated 16 January 2017

Acetylcysteine

Acetylcysteine is a mucolytic. Mucolytics are drugs that dissolve or break down mucus. This reduces the thickness of mucus and phlegm, making it easier to cough up.

0
(Also known as N-acetylcysteine)

Acetylcysteine is the active ingredient of mucolator granules for suspension (Nappi Code: 710392-001)

General information
Acetylcysteine is a mucolytic. Mucolytics are drugs that dissolve or break down mucus. This reduces the thickness of mucus and phlegm, making it easier to cough up.

In South Africa cetylcysteine is registered for the treatment of thinning of excessive or thickened mucus secretion associated with non-infectious respiratory tract disorders and cystic fibrosis, and antidote in paracetamol overdose.

This medication does not cure the underlying condition, but simply keeps the symptoms under control. For it to be effective it has to be taken regularly, even if you do not notice an immediate effect.

How does acetylcysteine work?
This medication works by breaking some of the chemical bonds between the molecules in mucus. This makes bronchial mucus less thick and sticky and makes it easier to cough up.

Fast facts
Drug schedule: schedule 2
Available as: acetylcysteine is available as effervescent tablets, granules and lozenges
What does it do? Acetylcysteine dissolves or break down mucus.
Overdose risk: low
Dependence risk: low
Is acetylcysteine available as a generic? yes
Is acetylcysteine available on prescription only? no

User information
Stopping this medicine: treatment with this medication can be safely stopped when no longer needed.

Special precautions
Consult your doctor before using this drug if:

  • you have asthma
  • you have a history of stomach ulcers

Pregnancy:
avoid. It is unknown how this medication may affect your baby. Consult your doctor before using this drug, or if you are planning to fall pregnant.
Breastfeeding: avoid. It is unknown how this medication may affect your baby. Consult your doctor before use.
Porphyria: this medication is safe for use.
Infants and children: this medication is not intended for use in children under the age of 2 years.
The elderly: no special precautions need to be taken.
Driving and hazardous work: no special precautions need to be taken.
Alcohol: avoid concomitant use of alcohol with this medication.

Possible side effects

Side Effect
Frequency
Consult your doctor
 
Common
Rare
Only if severe
In all cases
nausea/vomiting
X
X
diarrhoea
X
X
headache
X
X
ringing in the ears
X
X
fever
X
X
skin reactions - allergic
X
X

Interactions
Drug interactions

Nitroglycerine may increase lowering of blood pressure

Overdose action
A small overdose is no cause for concern. In case of intentional large overdose, seek emergency medical attention.

Recommended dosage
Adults, oral: 200 - 400mg three times daily. For paracetamol overdose treatment should be initiated within 8 - 24 hours. A loading dose of 140mg/kg is advised followed by 70mg/kg every 4 hours for a total of 17 doses.

Interesting fact
This drug has been shown to reduce cravings associated with chronic cocaine use.

This material is not intended to substitute medical advice, but is for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment and recommendations.

 

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Cough Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others. Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute.

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