Cold And Cough Medicine And Natural Remedies

cold and cough medicine and home remedies
Submitted and Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mavra Farrukh


A hacking cough is a true nuisance. It is wise to know the type of cough you have so that you don’t end up trying every over-the-counter cough medicine before getting to the best one. The article discusses the options that will help manage your cold and give you a better understanding of cold and cough medicine.

Different types of cold and cough medicines

There are many effective cough medicine and medications used to treat symptoms of a cold. Mainly these medications are classified as follows:

  • Nasal decongestants – unclog a stuffy nose 
  • Expectorants – loosen mucus in the lungs so it can be coughed up
  • Cough suppressants – help quieten down a cough
  • Pain relievers – alleviate fever, headaches, and body aches
  • Antihistamines – help stop runny noses and sneezing

What types of OTC cough medicine are available?

In order to get relief from a cough you may end up experimenting with different options. There is no clear-cut answer to what works best, but there are numerous factors, such as identifying the type of cough that will, in turn, help determine the most effective cough medicine. The cough medicine eases symptoms while your body naturally recovers. 

There are countless brands of over-the-counter cough medicines that are available. These mainly contain: 


The mode of action is thining and loosening up the mucus so it can be coughed up more quickly. Resultantly helping the body to get rid of the excessive mucus rapidly.

Guaifenesin is the active ingredient in OTC cough expectorants. It’s found in well-known formulations such as Robitussin Cough, Chest Congestion DM, and Mucinex. These are considered the best over-the-counter cough medicine by many. 


It helps reduce the frequency of coughing by blocking the nerve impulse responsible for the cough reflex. These cough syrup for adults can help provide short-term relief from coughing. The active ingredient is usually dextromethorphan (DM), an effective cough suppressant. Cough suppressant medication often includes camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil. OTC cough suppressant can help if a cough is interfering with your daily activities or causing sleep disturbances. This is particularly the reason why some doctors recommend taking cough suppressants at bedtime. 

Chat with a doctor to find out the best cough syrup for you

How to get rid of a cough fast?

Over-the-counter cough medicine has proven to provide relief. Combination cough products available have more than one active ingredient and may help get rid of a cough quickly. These contain both guaifenesin and dextromethorphan. Additionally, cough medicine contains ingredients that help soothe the throat. Combination products contain a mixture of several medications that help ease other symptoms. They commonly include decongestants for a stuffy nose, antihistamines for a runny nose, and painkillers. The best choice depends on the signs that you are experiencing. 

Precautions while taking Cough Medicine

  • Read the list of ingredients carefully: Every cough syrup is not the one for you. It is best to check the label to see if it is a suppressant, an expectorant, or a combination medicine. This helps ensure that you get the proper medication to eliminate your symptoms. 
  • Read the label. After choosing the correct medicine for you, it is essential to read the label carefully to help ensure that you are aware of the common side effects and any warnings.
  • Don’t use the cough medicine for more than a week. Another underlying condition may cause the cough; therefore, if it is persistent, it is best to consult a doctor. 
  • Do not exceed the recommended dosage. Drinking cough syrups directly from the bottle is definitely not a good idea. It is best to take measure and take the correct dosage. Medicines in high doses can prove to be dangerous. High doses of cough medicine can cause complications such as seizures, brain damage, or death.
  • Be extra cautious with combination medicines. Many OTC cough medicines contain multiple ingredients. These commonly contain suppressants and expectorants along with antihistamines, decongestants or painkillers. Selecting products depends on your symptoms. If your symptom is only a cough, you don’t require a decongestant. If you have multiple symptoms, you must compare all the medicines you are taking to see if they contain the same ingredients. Taking two medications simultaneously that contain the same ingredients can be dangerous. 
  • Keep away from kids. Children under four should not be prescribed cough and cold medicine. For kids above that age, a doctor should be consulted. 

Nasal decongestants

Nasal decongestants decrease nasal congestion. They act on the blood vessels in the nose lining, narrowing them; hence the swollen tissue shrinks and the mucous production decreases. Resultantly, air can then pass through more easily. Additionally, this medication help deals with postnasal drip as well. 

Nasal decongestants are available in the form of nasal sprays, liquid drops or pills. Children who are three years or younger should not use these. 

Some of the active ingredients used in OTC nasal decongestants include:

  • oxymetazoline nasal 
  • phenylephrine oral 
  • pseudoephedrine
  • phenylephrine nasal 


Histamine is a natural chemical released by cells in our body when we’re exposed to allergens. Antihistamines block the release of histamines providing some relief from the following symptoms:

  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • itchy eyes
  • coughing 

Active ingredients in OTC antihistamines include:

  • chlorpheniramine
  • diphenhydramine 
  • brompheniramine 
  • doxylamine

The medications listed above are first-generation antihistamines and can lead to drowsiness. That is why they are taken at nighttime. 

Second-generation over-the-counter antihistamines, which don’t lead to drowsiness, include:

Pain relievers

Pain relievers help reduce or eliminate the different types of pain associated with a common cold, such as:

The common ingredients in pain relievers include:

  • ibuprofen 
  • naproxen 
  • acetaminophen 
Do you have a peristent cough? Talk to our doctor to discuss treatment options

Cold drug precautions

Always take cold and cough medication as recommended to ensure no grave consequences.

Nasal decongestants

Using nasal decongestions can increase your blood pressure if you have hypertension. Therefore, it is advisable to talk to a doctor before use.

It is advisable not to use decongestant nasal sprays for a prolonged duration, as these drugs become less effective over a few days. Furthermore, using them longer can result in chronic inflammation of the mucus membranes due to the rebound effect.

Pain relievers

Acetaminophen can result in liver damage if you exceed the dosage or take the drug frequently over an extended period. The daily recommended maximum range is 3,000 and 4,000 milligrams (mg).

Prescription cough medicines

OTC options are always that effective and may not always work. If you have exhausted your options, your doctor may provide you with prescription cough medicine for adults for relief. 

Benzonatate is a non-narcotic antitussive prescription cough medicine that numbs the airways, the air sacs in the lungs, and the lining of the lungs. The drug is approved by FDA for adults and children over 10 years old. Benzonatate (Tessalon) capsules 600 mg can be taken daily, divided into three doses as advised by a doctor.

If you are experiencing wheezing alongside a cough, your doctor will prescribe an albuterol inhaler if it’s from acute bronchitis. 

Codeine cough suppressants like promethazine/codeine are only an option for adults for short-term use. It is considered the strongest cough medicine but being a controlled substance, it is prescribed with caution. 

What does the research say?

The question is whether OTC cough medicines work or not. 

Studies have not yet reached a definite conclusion on the effectiveness of these medications for acute cough. Research is still needed to determine if medicine plays a significant role in treating the symptoms. 

So, what’s the best cough medicine?

OTC cough medications are commonly used to get relief from an acute cough. However, it is crucial to select the right product considering the cause and type of your cough. To put it simply, the best cough medicine is the one that best meets your requirements. 

The best dry cough medicine for adults is an antitussive formulation. But in a productive cough, an expectorant usually helps eliminate the excess mucus. A combination of antitussives and expectorants plus antihistamines or decongestants can be present in specific formulations. 

Know that combination products are meant to treat multiple symptoms at once, so they may also contain medications for pain, congestion, or fever. In this case, you’ll want to ensure you’re not taking something you don’t need. For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is found in numerous OTC cough and cold products that you may not realize without researching. 

If you’re pregnant, have other health conditions or are taking several medications, talk to your doctor before taking medicine for a cough or cold medicine.

What else can I do to feel better for a cold or cough?

Some measures that may help you recover from a cold or cough include:

  • Drinking lots of fluids
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Using a cool mist humidifier
  • Using saline nasal drops or sprays

Home remedies for cough

Sometimes the strongest over-the-counter cough medicine does not do the trick. Hence it is advisable to keep that you equip your immune system with the right tools so that your body can recover naturally. 


Honey has been used to treat sore throats for centuries. It is a tried and tested remedy. 2 teaspoons of honey can be mixed with herbal tea or warm water and lemon and consumed to soothe the throat. It has antibacterial properties as well. This is one of the very effective dry cough remedies.


Ginger is a well-known traditional remedy that can aid in soothing a cough.

Some studies indicate that ginger can relax the airway muscles. This is highly beneficial for asthmatic symptoms, including coughing.

Ginger contains a mixture of anti-inflammatory compounds that may reduce swelling in the throat.

Ginger tea can do wonders in getting rid of a persistent cough. The hot liquid reduces irritation, mucus and dryness in the throat. 

Slippery elm

This is yet another ancient remedy for coughing and sore throat. It is believed to reduce inflammation and soothe the lining of the throat.

Slippery elm is available in the form of tablets, lozenges, capsules and tea. 


Peppermint leaves are widely known for their healing properties. For example, the menthol in peppermint helps in soothing the throat and helps ease breathing.

Inhaling peppermint vapours from a steam treatment or drinking peppermint tea may help provide relief. 

Warning signs that indicate further evaluation is required 

You should see a doctor if you fall under the following criteria:

  • If you have a persistent cough lasting more than 2 weeks. 
  • When the colour of your phlegm is not clear, different colours can indicate various illnesses. The brown colour usually indicates pneumonia, black indicates fungal infection, and red may be a sign of TB
  • If you are around the age of 45 and have a history of smoking for several years.
  • If the cough is associated with other symptoms such as fever, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, swelling of lower legs or hands, trouble swallowing, vomiting or sudden weight loss,

When to Consult a Doctor

You should stop taking cough medicine and inform your doctor if your cough lasts for more than two weeks. If you have questions regarding any cough medicine you are taking, talk to our doctor at Your Doctors Online. 

It is crucial to rule out other underlying conditions beyond the common cold or flu. For example, if the cause of your symptoms is bacterial, you may require a prescription for medication like Prednisone.

Chat with a doctor to determine the best cough medicine for you

FAQs About Cough Medications Answered by Your Doctors Online Team

Do cough drops work?

Products containing menthol such as throat lozenges or cough drops may help relieve coughs temporarily.

How to stop coughing at night?

Some measures that may help relieve nighttime coughing include:
Using a humidifier
Gargling with warm water containing salt
Elevating the head
Drinking tea with honey
Taking over-the-counter medications

How to stop a cough?

There are cough products available over the counter that may help get rid of a cough quickly. These contain guaifenesin and dextromethorphan or both.

How to get rid of a cough overnight?

Taking an expectorant or a cough suppressant or consuming warm fluids or tea can help eliminate a cough effectively. 

What is best for dry cough?

Cough suppressants, throat lozenges, using a humidifier, gargling with salt water, and drinking plenty of fluids all help cure a dry cough.

Why is a cough worse at night?

Cough may worsen at night because a person is lying flat and the mucus can pool at the back of the throat, triggering a cough. Elevating the head can help decrease postnasal drip and prevent coughing fits.

How do I know if my cough is serious?

If the cough persists for several weeks, contains yellowish-green phlegm or blood or is associated with multiple symptoms, further evaluation is required. 

How do you get rid of a cough in 5 minutes?

Sucking a lozenge, hard candy, or warm fluids may help dampen any cough.

Which antibiotic is best for cough and cold?

Antibiotics are generally not required in case of a common cold. Over-the-counter medications and home remedies often do the trick. 

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