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Cold and Flu Center

Cough Medicine Ingredients

author image Jacques Courseault
As a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician I have extensive experience in musculoskeletal/neurological medicine that will benefit the network.
Cough Medicine Ingredients
A woman measures her cough medicine. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images


Cough medicine is one of the most common over-the-counter, or OTC, medications used to reduce the frequency and severity of cough. According to FamilyDoctor.org, there are two type of OTC cough medications available: antitussives and expectorants. Furthermore, antitussives are cough suppressants that relieve cough by blocking the cough reflex. Expectorants work by thinning mucous, which allows it to clear from your airways. In addition, cough medicine may be supplemented with pain relievers to alleviate symptoms. As with all medications, you should be aware of their ingredients and effects.


According to Drugs.com, dextromethorphan is a commonly used ingredient in cough medicine. This ingredient is an antitussive that reduces coughing by decreasing the signal in the brain responsible for the cough reflex. For dextromethorphan to be most effective, you must drink plenty of fluids to lubricate your throat. Side effects associated with dextromethorphan, according to Drugs.com, include dizziness, anxiety, restlessness, confusion, hallucinations or shallow breathing. In addition, use this medication as directed. Drugs.com states that you should not give dextromethorphan to a child younger than 4 years old, because death can possibly occur. Alert your doctor if your cough is severe or has not resolved in one week.


Guaifenesin is also common in cough medicines. According to Drugs.com, this ingredient is an expectorant that loosens mucous and allows for a productive cough and decreased chest congestion. As with dextromethorphan, you should increase your fluid intake to help guaifenesin thin mucous in your airways. Possible side effects include dizziness, headache, rash and stomach upset. Alert your doctor if you are not experiencing any relief with guaifenesin.

Pain Relievers

According to FamilyDoctor.org, pain relievers, such as Tylenol or Aleve, are commonly added to cough medicines to reduce fever, pain and headache associated with a cold. Pain relievers work by reducing chemical signals that are released in response to pain. Tylenol, however, is the only pain reliever that can reduce fever. Use caution when taking pain relievers, and be sure to consult your doctor to make sure they will not interact with other medications you may be taking.

Inactive Ingredients

Cough medicine includes inactive ingredients - components that do not affect the therapeutic action of the drug. These ingredients vary by product, but many cough medicines include dye for added color, alcohol, citric acid, high fructose corn syrup and saccharin sodium to improve flavor.

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