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What is a Cough Expectorant Syrup?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cough expectorant syrup is a type of medication used to help a patient cough up mucus. There are many types and brands of this medication, some available over the counter and others by prescription. It is important to understand the indications of such a syrup before taking it; while for some types of illness it can speed up recovery, it may slow recovery down in others.

Expectorant works by thinning out the mucus trapped in the nose, throat, and lungs. It makes it easier to cough up this mucus, thus getting rid of it as fast as possible. Expectorants are often prescribed or recommended for sick patients who are have a wet cough with lots of mucus. Making the mucus easier to cough up can stop severe coughing fits that may irritate the throat and cause serious pain.

A cough expectorant syrup is distinct from a cough suppressant, which works in an entirely different way. Cough suppressants block cough reflexes, allowing relief from a dry cough. Generally, these two types of medication are used for different conditions, but some formulas do contain both a cough expectorant and a cough suppressant. The theory behind combining the medications is that it will result in less coughing, but make each cough more productive.

The compound most frequently used in cough expectorant syrup is called guaifenesin. Though officially approved for use in America in 1952, the medicine derives from a remedy known by indigenous Americans for centuries. Guaiacum is a flowering plant that flourishes throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of North America. Though originally used in the treatment of syphilis, Native Americans also found guaiacum useful for curing severe colds and coughing. The medicine was adopted by European settlers in the 16th century.

Cough expectorant syrup is often sold as a combination medicine that also treats other cold or respiratory symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, sinus headaches, and runny nose. It is important to note that side effects are fairly common with this cocktail of medication, even in the fairly mild dose present in over the counter versions. Most often, it causes drowsiness, though sleeplessness can also occur. Dizziness and irritability may also be common side effects.

When choosing a cough expectorant syrup, read allergy and dosing information carefully, especially if the medicine is going to be used on children. Consult a physician if a child is under the recommended age limit for the medication, and be on the watch for symptoms of an allergic reaction if this is the first time taking the medicine. Many expectorants come in a variety of sugary or fruit flavors to help ease dosing for both children and adults.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for The Health Board. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Talentryto — On Jan 09, 2014
@Rundocuri: Every person has different reactions to medications, so it's hard to tell what side effects you might have to a cough expectorant syrup. It's best to consult with your doctor first to be on the safe side, and make sure you have time to rest when you take a cough expectorant.
By Rundocuri — On Jan 08, 2014

I was curious about how frequently side effects like dizziness occur when taking cough expectorant syrup. I have taken cough suppressants for a cold in the past, but have stayed away from expectorants because of potential side effects. However, sometimes merely taking a cough suppressant isn’t enough to help relieve cold symptoms.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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