Research shows most cough medicine is ineffective

15 out of 19 cough syrup studies showed the medication was not beneficial or the results were conflicting, according to one review. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Cold and flu season is in full force, so what treatments are most effective?

Research shows that cough medicine often isn’t any more effective than taking a placebo. The American Chemical Society is the latest to address this issue and are working to spread awareness about it.

Cough syrups are intended to do things like suppress the cough reflex and help with decongestion, but there’s very little evidence that these cough syrups are effective at stopping or reducing coughs, according to multiple reviews.

Dr. Kimbre Zahn, an IU Health physician, said there are safer alternatives than cough medications and they do tend to be more helpful.

“Probably things that we think about depend a little bit on your symptoms, but things like inhaled nasal saline rinses, doing vapor rub, honey, as long as the child is over the age of one, really has been shown to be more effective than these cough and cold medications,” Dr. Zahn said.

She also warns against zinc, vitamin c, and echinacea saying those also have not shown to be effective in preventing illness or helpful with treatment.

Dr. Zahn said if you do purchase an over-the-counter medication, look for ‘DM’ on the box.

“This is a cough suppressant. It actually works by suppressing the cough reflex. It does have some actual benefit when it comes to cough, so if you’re really inclined to go get a medication that would be what I would choose,” Dr. Zahn said.

And while there’s no guarantee cough syrups will cure your cough, research does show it can help you get a better night’s sleep.

If you think this research indicates maybe a larger dose is the way to go, the American Chemical Society is offering a strict warning. Large doses can lead to serious health complications and even death, especially for children. Thousands of children 12 years old and under are taken to emergency rooms each year because of cough medicine overdoses, according to the ACS.

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