Updated 16 November 2016

Side effects of cough medications

It is important to know the side-effects of popular cough medications.

If you are dealing with a cold, you may want to pick up some over-the-counter cough medication to help. There is often a full store aisle of cough and cold medication for you to choose from. With any medication, it is always good to know what the potential side effects may be before taking it. Below are some of the side effects you may experience with common cough medications.

Cough-Suppressant Medications

Certain cough medications have ingredients that help to suppress your cough. Common side effects from this type of medication include dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and constipation.


Expectorants are medications that work to break up mucus and loosen congestion. Side effects from this type of medication can include nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches and drowsiness.


If you are pregnant, have heart disease, asthma, glaucoma or enlarged prostate, check with your doctor as cough medications can complicate these conditions. Medications also have ingredients to which some people are allergic. Make sure you read the label carefully.

Serious and Life-Threatening Side Effects

Some cough medications may contain ingredients that are habit-forming. It is not recommended to give cough medicine to a young child under 2. Accidental overdoses of cough medicine or reactions to other medications have caused death in rare circumstances.

Cough Medicine Abuse

A scary practice among kids is using cough medicine to get high. This abuse of cough medicine can have serious and deadly consequences. It is important to keep track of any medications your child may be taking. See the KidsHealth link below for more information.



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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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