What does cough medicine do?

Researchers find no clear effect with prolonged coughing

Swallow cough syrup: useful or not? spukkato / istock
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Just wait and see: this is obviously the best strategy against persistent cough. Because a meta-analysis shows: drugs with common drugs such as codeine or salbutamol help with so-called subacute cough hardly. Such complaints, which can last for several weeks after a cold, usually disappear just as well without treatment as they do with drops or tablets.

Coughing is one of the most common reasons for a doctor's visit. Behind the annoying symptom can be many different triggers. Often, however, a viral respiratory tract infection is responsible - for example, a common cold. In many patients, the cough proves to be particularly persistent: they still cough even if they otherwise already feel fit again.

Physicians speak in this case of a subacute cough, which can last between three and eight weeks. But what helps against it? Does it make sense to swallow medicine - or should people just wait and see? Benjamin Speich from the University of Basel and his colleagues have now investigated this question.

No significant effect

For their meta-analysis, they evaluated data from six clinical trials involving 724 patients. All studies looked at the use of drugs and natural remedies that are widely used in Europe and North America for the treatment of cough. A total of seven active substances were investigated - including salbutamol, the opioid codeine and gelatin.

Would the remedies relieve the persistent cough? The evaluation showed that none of the treatments could significantly support the healing of the cough. In fact, in two of the six studies, researchers found at least a slight benefit of the cough medication over a placebo. However, the effect was minimal and in all cases the symptoms disappeared both with and without treatment. display

"Avoid over-treatment"

There are no serious side effects to be feared from the tested agents - but also no great effect, as Speich emphasizes: "We currently do not see any treatment based on our investigation that has clear benefits for the patients." The extent to which the results are generalizable is clear to researchers although unclear.

Nevertheless, the results underline her opinion that the prescription of drops and tablets should not be premature in subacute cough. Patients often requested treatment, although this was not necessary: ​​"To avoid over-treatment, it is therefore important to take time for patients and explain the disease accurately, " the team writes.

A more cautious approach to cough medicine would also bring economic benefits: it is estimated that the cost of cough medicines worldwide is $ 4 billion a year. (British Journal of General Practice, 2018; doi: 10.3399 / bjgp18X698885)

(University of Basel, 18.09.2018 - DAL)