OTC Cold and Cough Medications (cont.)

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It's important to note that decongestants do not relieve a runny or itchy nose.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines counteract the effects of histamine, a chemical released by the body during allergic reactions. Histamines can cause sneezing, itching of the throat and eyes, and a runny nose. Over-the-counter antihistamines belong to one of two groups: first-generation antihistamines and the newer second-generation antihistamines.

The drugs found in first-generation OTC antihistamines include:

  • brompheniramine,
  • chlorpheniramine (for example, Tannate-12 S, Tannihist-12 RF, Trionate, Tussi-12 S, Tussizone-12 RF, Tussionex)
  • dimenhydrinate,
  • doxylamine, and
  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

They generally have an opposite effect from decongestants and can be sedating. Paradoxically, infants and children may sometimes become irritable after taking antihistamines. Common OTC antihistamines take about 30-60 minutes to work. Loratidine (Claritin, Claritin RediTabs, Alavert, and others) is an example of the newer, second-generation antihistamines that is available OTC.

The second-generation antihistamines do not possess the sedating effects of the older, first-generation antihistamines.

Cough medicines

Cough medicines may be expectorants or cough suppressants.

Expectorants are medicines that help bring up mucus from the airways. Guaifenesin (Humibid, Humibid LA, Robitussin, Organidin NR, Fenesin) is a common expectorant. It promotes drainage of mucus from the lungs by thinning the mucus and also by lubricating the irritated respiratory tract.

Cough suppressants

Cough suppressants are intended to decrease coughing. A common OTC cough suppressant is dextromethorphan (Robitussin, Vicks 44), which acts on the brain to suppress coughing. Interestingly, dextromethorphan was not found to be any more effective than placebo in clinical trials involving children, and there are no indications established for its use in children. Suppression of coughing can also be dangerous in people suffering from certain airway diseases. Coughs due to upper airway viral infections can be treated simply with humidity and fluid administration.

OTC Cold and Cough Medications Resources

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Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/5/2014