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How Do Cough Drops Work? Understanding Cough Treatment

Dr. Alejandro Junger Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Alejandro Junger on May 3, 2021

Although you might be quick to offer a cough drop to your kid when you hear them coughing or hacking, it’s important to know how exactly cough drops work. As an integrative physician , advisor and partner of Genexa, the first clean medicine company, I believe it’s important to empower patients with information on common symptom relief. This article will take a close look at cough drops and alternative cough treatments you can use to clear up your little one’s cough.


What is a cough drop?

Cough drops are medicated lozenges that come in a wide variety of flavors. Usually, cough drops are used to soothe coughing or ease the pain of a sore throat.


You probably know cough drops by the most popular brands like Halls, Ricola, Cepacol, etc.


Cough drops are about the size (and sometimes even the flavor) of candies like Jolly Ranchers, so kids tend to love them.


How do cough drops work?

The basic science behind a cough drop is that when you suck on one the lozenge starts to dissolve, and as the cough drop dissolves, medicine is released that can suppress a cough. Some types of cough drops contain medication that can actively help to fight cold symptoms and ease the pain of sore throats.


Alongside helping soothe the pain associated with a cough and sore throat, the act of sucking on something like a lozenge can also be beneficial to relieve coughing. When your little one is sucking on a cough drop, they’re making more saliva which can help reduce dryness in the throat and coat it. This coating can ease the itchy, dry feeling that often comes with a cough or a sore throat.


Do cough drops cure coughs?

It’s important to remember that cough drops can soothe the side effects of a cough or sore throat, but they are not a cure. Often, coughs are caused by viral or bacterial infections. The cough drop won’t do anything to address the illness, but they will make it easier to tolerate the recovery process as the body fights off infection.


You can think of cough drops like ice packs: they help relieve pain but don’t really do anything to “fix” the problem.


Are cough drops safe for kids?

For the most part, cough drops are safe for kids older than six years old. If they’re between the ages of four and six, ask your doctor before giving them cough drops. If your kid is younger than four, it’s a good idea to stay away from cough drops and cough medicine in general.


There are two main reasons why cough drops aren’t safe for young children: they present a choking hazard and can contain active ingredients that are a bit too potent. Given that young kids are prone to choking, it’s a good idea to only give your kid lozenges once they’re older. A good rule of thumb to follow is giving your kid cough drops only once they can safely manage lollipops or other hard candies.


Given that cough drops often contain some kind of cough suppressing medication, they can’t be given to kids younger than two. In some cases, these medications have been known to cause convulsions, rapid heart rates, and even death in the most extreme cases.


Downsides to Cough Drops

Although cough drops can provide momentary relief, there are a few downsides to be aware of when giving them to your kid.


Sugar

One of the big reasons to be cautious about giving your kid cough drops is that most lozenges contain lots of sugar to make the taste tolerable. Although the sugar often has its desired effect, this makes lozenges quite unhealthy. New guidelines call for less than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for kids ages 2-18. Lots of sugar in kids’ diets can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.


Given that lots of cough drops, especially those marketed specifically for kids, come in tasty, sugary flavors, they can be as tempting to eat as normal candy. For this reason, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of cough drops, if any, that you give your kids.


Scientific Debate

Alongside being pretty sugary, there’s also some debate in the scientific community about how effective cough drops actually are. For the most part, it’s agreed that cough drops are beneficial because they keep the throat moist. Other than that, there’s some debate as to how well cough drops suppress other cough symptoms.


In fact, a recent study found that people who consume an excessive amount of cough drops, specifically menthol cough drops, had more severe cough symptoms.


Alternative Cough Treatments

Given that cough drops usually contain lots of sugar and might not be as effective as other medications and remedies, let’s look at alternatives for treating your kid’s cough.


Medication

One of the best ways to treat your little one’s cough is with a reliable, cough syrup such as Genexa’s Kids’ Cough & Chest Congestion. Given that Genexa’s cough syrup has two active ingredients, it acts as both a cough suppressant and expectorant.


This medication temporarily relieves coughing due to minor throat and bronchial irritation that sometimes occurs with the common cold and inhaled irritants. It also helps loosen phlegm and thin bronchial secretions to rid the bronchial passageways of bothersome mucus and make coughs more productive.


In this way, it will help your child cough less and make their mucus thinner and easier to cough up, reducing the amount of time they’ll experience airway irritation.


Lots of Fluids

It’s important to keep your kid full of fluids when they have a cough for a few reasons. When a cough is accompanied by other flu symptoms such as fever, your kid will likely become dehydrated, so making sure they’re staying full of fluids is key. Fluids, especially really hot ones and really cold ones, can also ease the pain of a sore throat.


To make those fluids do double duty for your kid, you can add honey to hot tea. Honey has natural antibacterial properties that helps it ease sore throats and soothe irritation caused by cold or flu symptoms. You can also add lemon to hot tea to give it a healthy boost. Lemon can help break up mucus and make it easier to cough up. It’s also full of Vitamin C, which will give your kid’s immune system a nice boost.


Steam

If your kid has a particularly dry cough, it’s likely that they’ll also complain of a dry, sore throat.


One of the best ways to ease the pain of a dry throat is with steam. Have your kid take a hot shower, or simply stand in the bathroom while a hot shower is running, so they can inhale the warm, moist steam.


Another way to ease the swollen tissue in their throat with steam is to simply boil water, drape a towel over their head, and have them inhale the steam from the water for a few minutes. This will hopefully make it easier to breathe. It’s a good idea to do some form of steam treatment at night so their throat is soothed right before bed. Just make sure they can breathe okay, and always supervise this remedy from start to finish.


Conclusion

The most important thing to know about cough drops is that they work in two different ways: they contain cough medicine that slowly dissolves as your kid sucks on them, and the act of sucking alone creates saliva that reduces dryness and pain in the throat.


That being said, there’s some debate as to how effective cough drops are, and they sometimes contain lots of sugar. Other cough remedies, such as kids’ cough syrup, fluids, and steam can be more beneficial.



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