There are two kinds of cough medications: those that stop you from coughing, and those that loosen the gunk in your lungs up so you can cough it out (or a combination thereof). The ones that stop you from coughing are called antitussives (lat. anti tussum - against the cough), and the ones that liquefy secretions so you can cough them up are called expectorants (lat. ex pectore - out of the chest)(see also expectorate - to spit).

One might think that the prime goal is to stop the cough (at least when your chest feels like it is tearing apart with each breath..), but the main goal medically is to get the yucky stuff out of your chest, since it provides a fabulous breeding ground (kind of a lung agar)for other bacteria.


Brand/Generic Drug Names

acetylcysteine, ammonium chloride, terpin hydrate, Benadryl/diphenhydramine,Tessalon/benzonatate, Paveral/codeine, Benilyn/dextromethorphan, Guaituss and Humibid and Robitussin/guaifenesin, Dilaudid/hydromorphone
Common uses
pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, atelectasis, nonproductive cough
Antitussives: suppress cough reflex by direct action on cough center in medulla Expectorants: liquefy/reduce viscosity of thick, tenacious secretions
Class contraindications
hypothyroidism, iodine sensitivity, pregnancy, lactation
Class precautions
asthma, elderly, debilitated
varies by drug
Adverse Reactions
drowsiness, dizziness, nausea
Additional Information
Assess cough (type, frequency, character, sputum)
Provide increased fluids and humidification
Evaluate therapeutic response: absence of cough
Date of most recent Update
August 08, 2002
Further information is available in the writeup for the specific name(s) of this medication class

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