Updated 16 January 2017

Cough syrup questioned

Over-the-counter syrups and drops have little impact on the underlying cause of a person's coughing and could actually harm infants.

Over-the-counter syrups and drops have little impact on the underlying cause of a person's coughing and could actually harm infants, a US respiratory specialists group said Tuesday.

Addressing the leading reason why people seek doctors for treatment, the American College of Chest Physicians issued a new set of guidelines for the diagnosis and management of coughing which downplayed the efficacy of the most popular drugs used for the problem.

"There is no clinical evidence that over-the-counter cough expectorants or suppressants actually relieve cough," said Dr Richard Irwin of the University of Massachusetts.

However, he added in a statement, older types of popular cough treatments such as antihistamines with decongestants are preferable for acute cough or upper airway cough syndrome, the latter formerly called postnasal drip syndrome.

Not recommended for children
The ACCP also made a strong recommendation in its guidelines against using over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children under 14.

"Cough is very common in children. However, cough and cold medicines are not useful in children and can actually be harmful," Irwin said.

"In most cases, a cough that is unrelated to chronic lung conditions, environmental influences, and other specific factors, will resolve on its own."

The ACCP guidelines, published in the January edition of the group's journal CHEST, contain over 200 evidence-based recommendations to doctors for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic coughing.

Vaccinate against whooping cough
The guidelines also strongly recommended that adults up to 65 receive new vaccines for pertussis, or whooping cough.

Whooping cough is not only restricted to childhood, as many may believe. A high percentage of adults suffer from pertussis throughout the world.

Irwin said the standard pertussis vaccine given to children is usually effective for only 10 years, but was not given to older children and adults because of side effects.

However, he said, a new vaccine is safe and effective for adults. –Sapa

Read more: What is chronic cough?


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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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